?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

*Act Three: Isn't something missing?
Masterpost



*

"There's a lot of information to sort through here, Cas," Dean said as Bobby flattened out a marked-up map on the kitchen table. "In case you forgot, we humans are limited in our transportation options."

The angel leaned over the map of the United States. His eyes moved slowly over the marked areas. The three hunters waited quietly for some reaction. Crowley occupied himself by pouring a tumbler of brandy.

"Interesting."

Bobby looked exasperated. Dean crossed his arms. "Seriously? We've been at this for days now, care to let us know if we're even on the right path here?"

Sam asked, "Can you narrow it down further?"

Castiel didn't respond for another minute as he continued to stare at the map. "I believe further investigation into the Southwest would be beneficial."

"What d'you think," Dean asked, looking to the other hunters, "we head out tomorrow?"

"Pretty sure there'll be a few hunts you could take up on the way," Bobby said. "Gives us some time on this end to get some more info."

Crowley raised an eyebrow at that. "It's 'us' now, is it?"

"Shuddup, no one's put a leash on you."

Sam and Dean exchanged a surprised look when the demon merely scowled in response.

"There's..." Castiel stood ramrod straight, head tilted to the side. His lips turned down in a sharp frown.

Visibly tensing, Dean asked, "Cas, what—?"

"Wow, bro, you're sporting some major mojo these days."

The spitting image of Gabriel appeared sitting tailor-style on Bobby's counter with a bag of gummy bears. Dean and Bobby headed toward the nearest weapons; Crowley made a strategic retreat to the other side of the room; Castiel's eyes widened but he didn't move. Sam felt dizzy as the blood rushed from his head.

The Gabriel-lookalike rolled his eyes dramatically and snapped away the knife and gun the hunters had nearly managed to grab. "Geez, what a reception. Take one for Team Rebel and I still get no respect."

"I don't know what the fuck you are, but you're at the top of my gank list," Dean growled. He moved conspicuously into a position between his brother and the lookalike.

Castiel slowly walked to the counter, stopping only a foot away. The Gabriel-image tucked the gummy bears into his jacket pocket and then spread his arms out. "Okay, get your little diagnostic scan over with. I've got places to be and questions to be answered."

Only a few moments passed before surprise overtook Castiel's expression. "Brother, I am pleased to see you alive."

"You mean— What?" Dean looked quickly between Castiel and the lookalike.

Castiel turned his gaze to Sam and confirmed, "It is Gabriel."

"Told you." Gabriel smirked.

Sam shook his head in disbelief. "How... when?" He wanted to go to Gabriel but he felt frozen in place, still stunned by Castiel's confirmation and confused by the archangel's all-Trickster expression.

"Secrets of the trade," Gabriel dismissed with a wave.

"Our Father did not return you?" Castiel tilted his head inquisitively and peered at the other angel with a scrutinizing look.

"So many questions! Are you just nosy or did you really miss me?" The way Gabriel said it and the mocking laugh that followed was unlike anything they'd heard since the TV land incident.

No one replied. Sam felt sick to his stomach.

Gabriel frowned at the group. "Seriously?" He uncrossed his legs and hopped off the counter. "Okay, okay, first and last opportunity for hugs!" With a cocky grin he spread his arms out. When no one made a move, he turned a pout towards Castiel, "No hug for your big brother?"

"Is it customary?" Castiel asked.

Gabriel saw Dean make a face at that. The archangel turned on the older Winchester. "Aw, c'mon Deano, spare a hug for the not-so-newly-resurrected?"

"Back off, asshole," Dean growled.

"Yeah, yeah, you're the macho man, got it. Fist bump? No? Fine." Gabriel snapped his fingers and suddenly appeared close at Sam's side, mere inches from touching. "Clearly you're the most touchy-feely of the group, Sammy, whaddya say?"

Sam felt drawn to Gabriel, regardless of the situation's confusion and the fear gnawing at his insides. He leaned closer without conscious decision to do so. After countless nightmares of his lover's death, the temptation to reach out and finally, finally hold someone real was too much to resist.

It felt right to wrap his arms around Gabriel again. The archangel's warmth drifted into him and it came as a familiar comfort. Instinctively Sam tightened the embrace and pressed his cheek against Gabriel's hair.

The angel didn't hug back and made a disgruntled noise when Sam's hold tightened.

"Okay, big guy, time to let go!" Gabriel slapped Sam's arm. A few moments later, Gabriel said, "So you missed me, got it. You can let me go."

Before Sam had time to process the implications of what Gabriel said, the angel had snapped himself back to the counter. With the angel's absence, Sam hugged his arms around himself. He could feel the others staring at him but when he lifted his head, he looked only to Gabriel.

At first glance the archangel's expression held amusement and mockery; it hurt to look at. Desperately hoping he'd read it wrong, Sam searched for something else. Much to his relief, Sam recognized the slight tensing of facial muscles that indicated Gabriel was trying to work something out in his mind.

Dean finally broke the silence. "Okay, what the fuck is going on?" He took a step toward the archangel.

"I would love to know," Gabriel replied, irritation clear in his voice. "I've got things to do but it's just a little hard to concentrate when your brother is yelling his head off for me."

"Something's wrong," Castiel said, eyes narrowing as he stared at the other angel.

"Yeah, that's obvious, Cas," Dean snapped.

"Have your lover's tiff later, boys. I want to know why a Winchester's so preoccupied with my death." Gabriel stared pointedly in Sam's direction. "I'd like to get on with my life without the constant interruptions."

The problem was so obvious but Sam had been silently praying that it wasn't the case. It felt like his throat had closed up when he tried to speak. "You don't remember..."

Gabriel's expression turned guarded and suspicion flashed in his eyes.

"Brother, how is it you have returned?" Castiel asked, sounding surprisingly earnest.

The archangel glared in response before snapping away. He didn't reappear.

Sam couldn't tell how long he stared at the empty counter before Bobby clasped a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Sit down, son."

Sam sank slowly onto the chair someone had pulled out for him, feeling numb. He doesn't remember. He doesn't know any of it. Why...?

"Son of a bitch," Dean muttered.

*

As much as he'd like to ignore the bits of memory loss, Sam Winchester's frequent calls and the strangeness of the encounter in the hunter's kitchen had Gabriel on-edge. It was frustrating how much not understanding their reactions bothered him. He knew from Kali that somehow he'd made the choice to stand against Lucifer. That would have put him on better terms with the Winchesters and Castiel. However, until he'd dropped in on the group, he'd thought that it was likely that he interfered to save Kali rather than further interact with the Anti-Destiny Brigade. Now he didn't know what to think, and the missing memories, once a small annoyance, had turned into a major source of nagging puzzlement.

The easiest way to get answers, he figured, was to do some exploration of Sam's dreamscapes. He hadn't bothered to look around except for the first time he actually responded to the kid's calls, and that hadn't been very enlightening neither had it been pleasant. He had no idea why the hunter's psyche would place Gabriel in his bed when the archangel's Grace burned out. Gabriel shivered at the memory. It had been nearly a millennia since he'd watched an angel burn away.

Now that he knew where the Winchesters were staying (he'd had to follow the feel of Castiel's grace), he could track Sam's consciousness without waiting for the human to call him. It took a while for the kid's mind to switch over to sleep, though he seemed to waver on the edge of unconsciousness for some time.

Sam stood at the motel window, watching the Impala pull away. He sighed and looked down at his phone. He typed something in and not long after, dream-Gabriel snapped into the hotel room. The archangel ran a quick look up and down the hunter before snapping up a bag of Maple Nut Goodies. Sam's lips turned up in a small smile and he easily caught the bag when it was tossed at him.

"Big brother taking the night off?" Gabriel asked as he started chewing on a licorice twist.

"Something like that," Sam said. He looked out the window once more before letting the curtain drop back into place and heading for a bed. He sat on the edge and opened his bag of candy.

Gabriel plopped down on the other bed and promptly changed position to lay on his stomach and kick his feet in the air. "So what are you doing here, Sammy? If you're between cases, take a page from your brother and hit a bar. I'm sure there's some prime targets to hustle, chicks to woo – they tend to like tall, dark, and brooding even if your brother's charming the panties off the rest."

Sam only looked mildly irritated as he ate his candy. "We're not exactly finished here, but..." He shrugged. "Well, these days Dean gets weird when we have to talk to priests."

With a soft snort, Gabriel waved a hand in dismissal. He asked, "What's the case?"

"Looks like a coven. Probably not a large group, and two members are already dead."

"You're dealing with a coven and your brother decides to flake off into the night." Gabriel frowned. Sam looked away and didn't say anything.

For a few minutes they sat in silence. Suddenly Gabriel sat up and clapped his hands. "Alright, kiddo! Let's wrap this one and blow this popsicle stand!" he said with a grin.

"I was going to look over our information tonight, but we were heading out in the—"

"Pssh. C'mon, get off your ass and let's go. We'll take care of this lickity-split. Wanna bet we get back before Deano?"

Sam looked baffled. "Why are you—?"

"Seriously? If you weren't expecting help, why'd you call me?" Gabriel smirked and didn't wait for a reply before snapping them away.


The dream blurred together with overlapping images. The completeness of the details in the dream suggested it was at least based on a real memory. Gabriel wondered when it had taken place. The conversation had been smooth and friendly, a concept that jarred with his recollection of frustrated expressions as the hunters left him standing in a dampening ring of holy fire.

The soft-focus disappeared abruptly, and the new scene formed with crystal clear detail.

Sam stood in the smoldering remains of an open field. Over a hundred bodies of men, women, and children lay in the grass like discarded ragdolls. Dean lay crumpled at the base of a tree, unconscious and breathing. Lucifer stood at the crest of a small hill, looking down at Sam with a calm expression.

"Are you proud of yourself, Sam? What have you actually accomplished?"

Sam's hands clenched and unclenched at his sides. "I stopped you. You're trapped, you can't hurt anyone anymore."

A slow smile spread across Lucifer's face. "How many died because of you, Sam?" He waved his hand and several bodies appeared on the hillside. Lucifer walked among them but his gaze remained locked on Sam.

The human's gaze moved from one corpse to the next. Gabriel recognized about half of the bodies and could guess the identity of Mary and John Winchester. For some the cause of death was obvious. A blonde with a ripped torso, claw marks of a hellhound. Blistered flesh and sliced belly for Mary and another blonde. The older hunter's, Bobby's, neck had been snapped. Gabriel's vessel lay alongside the other corpses, eyes open but vacant; angel blade buried hilt-deep into its chest.

"What does your brother have left?" Lucifer's voice was silky smooth. He made his way closer to Sam and stroked his fingertips over the human's arm. "So much death, and you took away the last of your brother's comforts."

The air seemed to come alive as ghostly images took form. The five figures moved as if ignorant of their surroundings. It quickly became clear that Lucifer had called upon some memory to play out. The hazy Sam, inhabited by Lucifer, reacted to Michael's banishment with a snap. Castiel's body exploded and the real Sam flinched. With a quick flick of the wrist Sam/Lucifer snapped Bobby's neck; the hunter crumpled to the ground.

Sam/Lucifer hauled Dean close and began to beat him. The older Winchester did little to protect himself and wouldn't fight back. The quickly blossoming bruises and crack of bones made even Gabriel wince.

Outside of the replay, Lucifer curled his fingers around Sam's bicep and leaned so close that their bodies nearly touched from head to toe. "His own brother left him bleeding and broken, alone. Tell me, Sam, who did you save?"

Sam seemed unable to look away from the never-ending scene before him. Gabriel watched as the first tear slipped free from the human's shining eyes. "It's over," he said in a shaky voice.

Lucifer's expression darkened and it looked like his grip on Sam's arm tightened. "Not for you."


Gabriel fled when the screams started.

*

It took a while to catch Castiel when the angel was on Earth but without the Winchesters.

"You're awful busy these days, bro," Gabriel said when he appeared next to Castiel in a grove of trees.

The younger angel turned to face him. "There is much to do. There is great conflict among our siblings and I fear Heaven may be facing another war." He fixed Gabriel with a pointed stare. "Your presence could be essential to keep us from falling into battle."

Gabriel scoffed. "Please, there's no one up there interested in seeing me again. Pretty sure there's more than a couple members of the family who'd happily deck me." He crossed his arms. "Not my scene. Think you guys can keep the argument upstairs this time?"

Castiel frowned, expression tight. "What do you want, Gabriel?"

It had taken much less time than Gabriel had expected for Castiel to demand a straight answer. As reluctant as he was to ask for help, he didn't want to press his luck by avoiding the issue and risk Castiel flying off to deal with his Heavenly business.

Stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets, Gabriel admitted, "So, funny thing. Since I've been back, things are kinda... fuzzy." He wrinkled his nose in distaste at how the explanation came out.

Castiel's eyes widened slightly but he said nothing for some time. Eventually his expression turned thoughtful. "Our Father is the only one to understand our creation," he mused. "Perhaps only He can return us to life."

Gabriel's hands fisted in his pockets as he struggled to control the wave of anger-hurt-jealousy that rushed through him. Once he had himself mostly under control he retorted, "Dandy theory you got there. Doesn't do much good for those of us who Dad didn't decide to give a second chance."

"Brother..." Gabriel's glare made the other fall silent for a few moments. "How did you return?"

"Old friend," he said. "She said I'd been dead a month."

Castiel surprisingly didn't ask for more information, perhaps sensing that Gabriel wasn't about to give further details.

After a few minutes, Gabriel interrupted the silence impatiently; "Well? Do you wanna fill me in?"

Castiel's gaze was calculating, expression calm despite Gabriel's irritated stare.

"Words alone will mean little," Castiel began. "It would be best to reacquaint yourself with the humans you befriended." There was a note of challenge in his voice.

Gabriel narrowed his eyes, torn between annoyance and amusement at Castiel's maneuvering. "Smug isn't quite your look, little bro." He snorted softly as his lips turned up in a reluctant grin. "Alright, I'll bite. What's in your conniving little brain? No trips upstairs, that's non-negotiable."

Castiel looked pleased with himself, an expression which Gabriel suspected was at least in part influenced by Dean Winchester. "We are searching for a militant faction of angels. They have warded themselves and I am unable to sense them. The Winchesters left South Dakota this morning, but it will take too long for them to check every possible lead. Crowley is researching with Bobby and using his contacts for further information. I ask for your assistance with tracking this group and ensuring they are no threat. In exchange, I will answer your questions and provide you with information of your lost time."

The arrangement could get complicated quickly. Considering who was involved, it was practically a guarantee that it would. Hardly a situation Gabriel cared to find himself in, but if he gathered information along the way, he could always back out if things got too hairy.

"Crowley teaching you bargaining skills?" Gabriel teased. "Just so we're clear, this is an ongoing flow of information. No holding out on details just to keep me playing along." Castiel nodded his agreement. Apparently that settled things.

Gabriel asked, "Why's the demon helping, anyways?"

"You will have to ask him." Castiel's gaze became distant and he turned away. "I must go. We will speak soon, Gabriel."

The archangel stood alone in the clearing a second later. "That didn't count as an answer!" he shouted.

*

Gabriel didn't answer right away when Castiel called. He waited until his brother started to sound annoyed. Castiel stood waiting in the same forest clearing as their last meeting.

"You rang?"

"Your assistance—"

"Ah!" Gabriel interrupted and wagged a finger at Castiel. "No go until you start paying up."

The other angel nodded. "Alright." He tilted his head as he stared silently at Gabriel for a few moments. "From your actions the other day, I assume your memories of the past year have been affected. What do you last clearly recall?"

Gabriel smirked. "I recall a highly entertaining sitcom and recasting Knight Rider."

Castiel nodded slowly as he processed that. "Do you remember Dean and Sam's request to join us?"

That memory was a little more sour; Gabriel scowled. "I remember the warehouse," he admitted.

Another nod, then Castiel said, "A few weeks after that you found the Winchesters. I was told you proposed a 'trial run.' Dean was reluctant but Sam agreed."

Gabriel frowned. He supposed it made sense that he didn't commit to anything right away, but that he was the one to come up with the proposal didn't mesh with his thoughts from the warehouse.

"I do not know why you offered your help," Castiel said. Gabriel made a mental note that his brother seemed to have improved his ability to read facial expressions. "However," he continued, "in only a few weeks Dean admitted you'd become a part of Team Free Will." Gabriel rolled his eyes at the name.

"Just what I always wanted, approval from a Winchester."

Castiel's expression remained blank. When the archangel said nothing else, he stated, "We need to join Dean and Sam." He pulled a cellphone from his pocket and showed Gabriel a text message with an address. "They're staying here."

It was immediately obvious upon landing in the Winchester's motel room that the hunters hadn't known about Gabriel. Sam's eyes widened when his gaze landed on the archangel. Dean's surprise quickly morphed into irritation and suspicion. Sure, I was part of the 'team,' Gabriel thought sarcastically.

Sam's quiet, "Cas?" was overridden by Dean's loud demand; "What are you doing here?"

Before Gabriel could snap a reply, Castiel said, "Gabriel will be assisting us." In response to Dean's skeptical expression, he added, "We have an agreement. Trust me." Gabriel hid a snicker at how quickly the hunter caved after that last bit.

The younger Winchester still looked wary, although he didn't voice whatever his concerns might have been. When Gabriel tried to catch his gaze, Sam ducked his head and seemed to hunch in on himself. Castiel asked about the search's progress before Gabriel could call Sam on the odd behavior.

~

The search for the missing angels had started a few days before Gabriel was roped into it. Not a lot of progress had been made, as Dean was fond of bitching about. Although for once, the human's frustration ended up productive.

Much to everyone's surprise, Dean was the one to ask for Gabriel's input. "Okay, dude, where would you hide?" He waved his hand over the map that had marks covering several southwestern states.

Grudgingly admitting to himself that it was a legitimate question, Gabriel avoided a snarky response. He let his gaze roam over the map as he considered the options.

"Well I have ideas where I would go," Gabriel said. "But I've always been better attuned to natural power reservoirs than others. I'd be looking for those spots to bolster any warding." He shrugged. "But I'd be setting up solo and the family doesn't tend to think like I do."

Dean looked like he wanted to comment on that, but he hesitated long enough that Castiel cut him off. "Your suggestions will be a worthwhile avenue of investigation."

"We can split the research," Sam said. He glanced at the others quickly, as if worried to meet anyone's gaze. "Someone works with Gabriel and the rest of us can look into other options. Bobby said Crowley would be checking back soon."

Castiel nodded his agreement. "Teams, huh?" Dean muttered thoughtfully.

Bingo! Gabriel grabbed at the opportunity to get more information. He raised his arm, waving it as he bounced on his toes. "Dibs on Sasquatch!"

The others looked at him with varying degrees of apprehension. Gabriel continued grinning. Dean looked sidelong at his brother, his expression concerned.

"What difference does it make?" Dean challenged, narrowed gaze returning to the archangel.

"Well I could have called dibs on you, but that would involve you staring daggers at me the entire time and Castiel sulking jealously."

Dean opened his mouth for what was sure to be a scathing retort, but Sam placed a hand on Dean's arm and drew attention to himself. "Dean, it's fine." Gabriel arched an eyebrow at that, curious at the silent byplay that went on between the two brothers as they locked gazes.

Leaning in, Dean muttered, "You sure?" Sam nodded but his smile was clearly fake. Looking reluctant, Dean sighed and straightened up. "Yeah, okay."

Castiel had observed the scene with an intent stare; Gabriel wondered what had so captivated his brother's interest. Regardless, he'd gotten his way and would have the opportunity to tease some information out of the younger Winchester.

With the division of "teams," they set about assigning their research plan of action.

*

Since the local library had little to offer, Gabriel snapped himself and Sam to a nearby university. After muttering a quick thank you, Sam headed off into the stacks. Gabriel trailed after him at a leisurely pace. He decided to wait to pump the human for answers until they'd settled in somewhere. In the meantime, Gabriel would just observe.

In the spirit of cooperation (and in interest of getting to his questions faster), Gabriel helped pick out and carry potentially useful books and journals. As they made their way through the library, Gabriel noticed small group study rooms. By the time Sam showed signs of wrapping up the book search, the angel made sure a room was open; it would be most convenient to have the privacy. Sam didn't question their good luck.

Sam claimed the end of the table that let him face the door. As he spread the books out on the table, he asked, "So where do you think we should start?"

Gabriel pulled a bag of Skittles out of his pocket. "Your decision, kiddo." As he popped a mix of green and red candies into his mouth, he noticed Sam's slight wince at the nickname.

Sam pulled a couple books toward him and stared at the covers as he worried his lip between his teeth. "You have a better idea what a group of angels might look for."

With a shrug, Gabriel glanced over the pile of books and slid out two. "Fine, take a look through here. Confirmed worshipping sites will clue you in to most areas of interest. No guarantee this is the right direction." Gabriel poured a handful of Skittles onto the table and started sorting them by color. "But we'll see if there's some crossover with our brothers' research."

Sam's attention had already zeroed in on one of the books, but he did nod to confirm that he'd heard.

Gabriel leaned back in his chair, stretching out with his legs crossed at the ankles. He divided his attention between skimming through the pages of his book, systematically working his way through the Skittle rainbow, and watching Sam. The human looked far from relaxed with his hunched shoulders and legs bent close to the chair. Seemed like Sam was doing his best to avoid even coming close to brushing against Gabriel's "space."

Ten minutes passed before Sam started shooting poorly-hidden glances at Gabriel. The human shifted restlessly in his chair every couple of minutes, and a few times his lips parted as if to speak, but he always closed his mouth again.

When Gabriel finished the Skittles and noisily crumpled the empty bag, Sam finally spoke. "In the proposal for making Bryce Canyon a national park, they included the wording 'Temple of the Gods National Monument.' Are there any sites there we should look into?"

"Hmm." Gabriel snapped up a map of Utah along with a park guide. He studied the marked terrain as he thought. After a few moments he shrugged and answered, "Worth a look-see. Couple hours field trip, whaddya say?" He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "Promise I'll show you a better time than our brothers' boring research."

Sam quickly ducked his head and muttered at his book, "Trip can wait, it'll better to have a list sorted first."

"Spoilsport," Gabriel pouted. Instead of returning to the research, he focused his full attention on the human.

"Knock it off."

Smirking a little, Gabriel asked, "What?"

Sam looked up and fixed the angel with a glare. "The staring, quit staring at me!" The frustration quickly faded to confusion. Looking less sure of himself, Sam said, "Wait. Why are you staring at me?"

Gabriel propped his elbow on the table and dropped his chin into his palm as he continued to stare at Sam intently. "Well," he said, drawing the word out. The human twitched, as if barely holding in the urge to flinch away. "I'm trying to figure out why you look like someone kicked your favorite puppy."

Sam looked away, expression uneasy. He rubbed at the back of his neck as he shifted in his seat. After a few false starts, Sam muttered, "I'm just... finding it a little hard to adjust, okay?"

Getting a straightforward answer hadn't been expected. Gabriel's attention turned to the little details of Sam's appearance: the crease of an almost constant frown, noticeable shadows beneath his eyes, and even worry lines that seemed to be on the way to becoming permanent. Gabriel recalled the dreams he'd observed and what little he'd seen of Sam's time in the Cage. Considering the state the kid's soul was probably in, it was a small miracle he looked as good as he did.

Well, Gabriel hadn't intended this to turn into a Winchester therapy session, he wanted answers for himself; but he had always been a little intrigued by this particular human. Besides, it wouldn't hurt to "give" a little in exchange for the "take."

"How long have you been back, kid?"

Sam looked confused for a long moment. Gabriel didn't know what else the human thought he could be talking about, but he could see understanding dawn on Sam's expression. "Oh. Uh..." He squinted his eyes as he apparently did some mental calculations. "A month... roughly." Sam picked at the fraying binding of his book. "It's a bit hard to, uh, keep track," he admitted quietly.

Expression hesitant, Sam met Gabriel's gaze and asked, "What about you?"

Pretty sure I'm supposed to be the one asking questions, Gabriel thought wryly; not that he saw any harm in answering. "Alive and kickin' for three months."

Sam noticeably paled, surprise and hurt quickly passing over his face before a neutral expression settled into place. Sam's gaze dropped to the books and he pulled a couple closer. "G-good. That's... great."

Okay, what the fuck is going on? Frustrated and sick of getting more questions than answers brought the archangel's sarcasm to the fore. "Wow, Sam. Your thrilling enthusiasm that one of your teammates came back from the dead is overwhelming. Please restrain yourself!"

Sam's stare remained fixed on the books in front of him and his bowed head made it hard to read his expression. "You didn't come back," he said faintly.

Gabriel rolled his eyes. "Guess you just didn't make much of an impression on me."

A very distinct silence followed his retort. It took a moment for Gabriel to realize that Sam was holding his breath. Hell, the kid didn't even look like he was moving, except for where his thumb rubbed a circle near his inner elbow. Gabriel tried, as he had several times before, to get a read on the human's mind, but it was like trying to pick up an incompatible frequency. He got only the vaguest flashes of emotions, though the gut-wrenching hurt threw him for a loop.

This really wasn't going anywhere he wanted. Restraining the urge to vent his frustration, Gabriel announced, "I'm going to check out Bryce and the surrounding area." He didn't wait to see if Sam responded. Mid-flight he did think to leave a bag of Maple Nut Goodies behind as a peace offering.

*

Gabriel didn't return to the university. When he found nothing promising around Bryce Canyon, he went his own way, interrupted only by a text message (Text message, really?) from Castiel. It said to meet back with the group the following evening, preferably after doing some independent searching.

He highly doubted his brother had meant searching in terms of Gabriel wandering again in Sam's dreams, but Gabriel hoped it would contribute to the answers he sought and clear up some of the human's odd behavior.

The moment he stepped into the dream, Gabriel knew Sam was back in the Cage even though the hotel room he stood in matched the usual Winchester fare. He'd appeared in the midst of a fight between Lucifer and Sam. The human grappled ineffectively with the fallen archangel, pure emotional adrenaline fueling his attacks. Sam's knuckles were blooded and bruised though he moved as if he didn't notice.

"Why do you insist on fighting me, Sam?" Lucifer overpowered the human and threw him to the ground. The fallen angel wiped his hand over his mouth, smearing a trail of blood against his skin. He planted a foot on Sam's back to keep the human down. "Wasn't this what you wanted? Leave your broken, tainted world as it is, cast yourself as some sort of martyr?" he sneered.

When Sam failed to push himself up, he turned his attention to trying to reach back and dislodge Lucifer's foot. Gabriel cringed away when his brother swiftly caught one of Sam's arms and wretched it at a sharp angle. Sam's cry trailed off into a high-pitched whine. Lucifer let the limp arm drop back down and Sam panted harshly into the floor.

"How does it feel to be the 'abomination'? There's no one to raise you, no one who thinks you deserve it. Do you like being found unworthy when your brother was the golden boy?"

Lucifer removed his foot and kicked Sam over onto his back. Sam bit off the scream of pain as his arm dragged with the movement. Lucifer crouched down over the human, narrowed stare intent. He braced himself with a hand over Sam's arm. His free hand lifted to slowly stroke his fingertips across the human's cheek.

"You're not quite ready," Lucifer murmured. His fingers continued to caress Sam's face. The human looked wary and resigned, and Gabriel had the sense that Sam knew what was coming. "Oh Sammy." Lucifer sighed and leaned close enough that their foreheads touched. "We could have been such a team. But..." The angel tilted his head, nose brushing against Sam's cheek. "Your blind allegiance got in the way."

The hand on Sam's arm tightened and Lucifer pushed himself up into a crouch. His expression was cold but his eyes flickered with anger. "Let's see if I can change your mind." A sharp twist and Sam screamed as bone
snapped.

Gabriel tried to pull back, prepared to escape the dream and the sickening sounds of his brother taking apart the human piece by piece. Sam's whimpers and screams made his stomach twist and Gabriel just wanted
out. But then, for some reason, Sam called out his name.

The human choked out the syllables of the archangel's name again and Gabriel just stared in confusion. Lucifer's eyes had narrowed as his focus turned to Sam's left arm. He seemed to have worked through every bone in the kid's hand before starting in on the forearm. Sam's shirt sleeve had been torn and Lucifer jabbed his nails into tender flesh before tearing long scratches through the skin.

"Please! Gabriel!" Sam sobbed as Lucifer seemed to literally dig his fingers into the inner arm.

Gabriel cursed and stepped forward, confused and angry and desperate to get rid of the damned noise that tore into him.

"Get out!" Gabriel focused a burst of energy at Lucifer, intent on dislodging the nightmare and getting both Sam and himself a little peace. It didn't quite work out that way.

The shove did knock Lucifer away, but the nightmare merely shifted. Sam still lay broken and bleeding on the floor. Lucifer stood, expression closed as he stared down at a body beside the human's; a body laying over the burnt impression of wings. Gabriel instinctively moved away from the sight of his dead vessel.

Sam's head turned to the empty vessel. His lips moved, but whatever he said came out too quiet for Gabriel to hear. For some inconceivable reason it seemed the kid was trying to reach out to touch the body. His movement drew Lucifer's attention.

"Filth," the fallen angel hissed, kicking at Sam's broken hand. The human's face scrunched up in pain. "Do not touch him again!"

Gabriel told himself to man-up and squared his shoulders. He whistled sharply and amazingly captured the attention of the other angel. "You—"

Gabriel didn't let his brother finish. Concentrating his power more precisely this time, Gabriel banished his brother's nightmare shadow. "Fuck off, bro," he muttered.

From the ground Sam stared at him with a look of confused disbelief. Gabriel slowly took a step forward and winced when the kid tried to flinch away.

"Shit, don't move," Gabriel admonished quietly. When he took another step Sam didn't move, but that was more likely because the first attempt had hurt too much rather than any trust he may have placed in Gabriel.

Pain-bleary eyes tracked Gabriel's movement as he knelt beside the human. "This might hurt, bucko," Gabriel warned. He placed a hand over Sam's sternum and concentrated on restoring the human's body. The pained whimper that escaped the human lacked the fear that had infused his cries at Lucifer's torture, but it still made something inside Gabriel cringe.

A few minutes passed before Gabriel withdrew his hand and stood up. He watched as the human carefully pushed himself into a sitting position. Sam flexed his fingers and stared at his hands with a look of confusion. He glanced up at Gabriel, baffled. "This didn't happen," he whispered.

Gabriel shoved his hands into his pants pockets and shrugged. "Well it did now."

"But... it never changes." Sam shook his head, then his gaze seemed to catch on the empty vessel still laying nearby. His eyes widened and he reached out with a trembling hand to clasp the still wrist. "You were gone."

Although this could be the perfect opportunity to get answers from the human, Gabriel felt strangely reluctant to take advantage of Sam's weakened emotional state.

"Yeah, well, we talked about that," Gabriel eventually replied.

Sam blinked up at the angel; his hand remained curled over the vessel's wrist. "Are you...?" His forehead wrinkled in confusion. "You left me candy. One of my favorites but... how did you know? You don't remem—" Sam's eyes suddenly widened and he looked a whole lot more alert. "Gabriel? What are you doing here?"

Shit. Here was the problem with interfering, Gabriel had outted himself regarding his dream-walking. He tried to dismiss any suspicion with a trademark grin and created an explanation; "Heard you again and decided I'd kick around and get us both some peace and quiet. I'm starting to think that the gag idea is a viable option," he teased.

The human pushed himself to his feet. He glanced from the vessel to Gabriel and back again. "You... I'm sorry." He rubbed a hand over his face. "I'm trying not to... you know." Sam grimaced and glanced sidelong at the archangel. "You, uh, you can go now. And, um... thanks."

Gabriel rolled his shoulders in an uncomfortable shrug. There was a strange tension here that made him uneasy and suspicious. "Who wouldn't get sick of seeing my brother all the time?" Gabriel prepared to snap himself away but hesitated. "These dreams should be letting up."

Sam smiled wryly. "Yeah."

There wasn't anything else to say, so Gabriel ignored the urge to stay and pushed himself out of the dream.


*

Gabriel didn't have a destination in mind when he left Sam's dreams. However he eventually found himself standing amongst broken cars and rusting scrap metal. The house lights were off but the moon shone brightly in the clear night sky, providing decent visibility even in the yard full of shadows.

The archangel could feel Crowley's presence inside the house and knew the demon would soon come out to investigate. He chose a car and hopped up onto the hood; he didn't have to wait long.

"Well, well, look who's come poking around. What are you doing here, angel?" Crowley stood a few feet away with his hands in his pockets.

"I should ask you the same thing," Gabriel replied. He looked the demon up and down as a grin slowly spread across his face. "Awful late to be here. Alone. With a hunter." Crowley snorted; his expression was hidden in shadow but Gabriel could guess he'd irritated the demon.

"Question remains, what're you here for?" Crowley cocked his head to the side as he waited for a reply.

Even though he hadn't made a conscious decision to come here, Gabriel figured he might as well make the most of having some time with the demon.

"Didn't expect you to be in on this little campaign," Gabriel remarked. He scooted back on the hood to lean against the windshield. "So tell me, what turned that little black heart of yours toward Team Free Will?"

Crowley chuckled. "Well isn't that the pot calling the kettle black."

Gabriel made a face. "Hardly my first choice to join up." He sighed dramatically, "But Castiel's learned to bargain."

"Ahh," Crowley drew the sound out with a knowing tone. "Your participation in trade for filling in those pesky memory gaps. So you've come to pick my brain, have you?"

There was no point denying it so Gabriel shrugged. "Simple question of how you fit into all this." He moved to the edge of the hood again and leaned forward as he kicked his legs against the fender.

Crowley hummed thoughtfully as he casually walked closer. His gaze scanned the archangel before focusing on his face. "A little bird dropped in on me with a suggestion. His unusual... earnestness intrigued me. Turned out that interest in self-preservation aligned with the fools' task."

Perplexed, Gabriel said, "I convinced you?"

The demon snorted. "You suggested, don't take all the credit."

Why would I care? Gabriel shook his head in confusion. "That doesn’t make sense. Why would I try recruiting you? I was fine doing my own thing."

"You're assuming that you explained yourself." Crowley chuckled. "What would I care of your reasons?"

"Oh I know I'd have to pander to your self-interest, Crowley. I also know you'd poke and prod 'til you had a satisfactory grasp of the situation." Gabriel leaned forward. "So get talking before I get smite-y."

With a shrug, Crowley said, "We're not so different, Trickster. Without humans, who do you have to play with? Who do I have to bargain their souls? You said the world wouldn't be much fun once your brother got his greedy hands on it." Crowley arched his eyebrow. "I was inclined to agree."

"That isn't all," Gabriel accused. The demon smirked and turned his gaze to the night sky. Gabriel glowered at Crowley; perhaps he shouldn't have expected straight answers from the demon, but that didn't mean he accepted getting the run-around from yet another person who could give him answers.

Apropos of nothing, Crowley asked, "The moose still having nightmares?"

Gabriel huffed an irritated sigh. "Moose? He says he's been back for a month, but still he's hollering at me." He reconsidered his wording. "Not at, for me. What's that about?" he complained.

"Complicated business dragging a single human soul out of a Cage strong enough to keep the Devil in." Crowley's voice had lost its amusement.

"Yeah, I'd think so, but I didn't pull him out. What's he crying to me for?"

It was a subtle shift, but Gabriel caught the brief frown that passed over Crowley's expression. The demon replied, "Might not've, but let's say you played a part."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Gabriel rolled his eyes. "What, first I 'suggest' you join the rabble-rousers and then I put you up to the task of making sure the Winchesters survive?" he asked incredulously.

Crowley's expression regained its familiar smugness when he turned his gaze back to the archangel. "Real enigma, isn't it. Do share when you figure it out." Crowley brushed at his jacket sleeves. "Now, I have someone to see to." He turned towards the house and started walking. A few feet away he glanced over his shoulder. "Don't you?"

Few options for who Crowley meant, but Gabriel had no plans to wander around Sam's mind again anytime soon. "Real helpful. Always enjoy talking with you, you dick!" Gabriel shouted after the demon. "Have good sex now!"

Crowley didn't even slow down as he gave Gabriel the two-finger salute.

"Screw you, too," the angel grumbled.

*

Gabriel popped himself onto the counter in the Winchester's motel room. With a snap, a bag of popcorn started to cook in the microwave. "Let's get this party started."

Castiel, standing by the table, simply blinked in response. Sitting nearby, Dean crossed his arms and glared at the archangel. Sam seemed to have set up camp on the threadbare couch. Gabriel caught the human's eye for a moment and felt disconcerted at the level of sorrow he saw there. Sam looked away quickly and bent over the papers spread around him.

"We have located the hiding place," Castiel said when no other reaction seemed forthcoming.

The microwave beeped. Gabriel snapped up a bowl and transferred the popcorn. "Oh?" he prompted.

"All signs indicate a place called Widtsoe," Castiel said.

Gabriel arched an eyebrow in silent question as he munched on his popcorn.

"A ghost town in Utah," Dean clarified. "Near Bryce Canyon, so that's probably their real interest."

"What?" Gabriel dropped his handful of popcorn back into the bowl. Scowling, he countered, "I went over the area already. Nothing's there!"

Dean smirked. "Seems you overlooked a few things."

"What genius came to that conclusion?" Gabriel demanded after directing an irritated glare at the smug human.

"Our combined findings led to the same conclusion," Castiel said, frowning slightly. "When I went to investigate, I encountered a barrier where the town should have been."

"So we're leaving in the morning," Dean continued. He glanced over his shoulder at Castiel. "Are we done here?" At the angel's nod, Dean turned to Sam. "Hey, you wanna go grab us some dinner?"

Sam shrugged, but Gabriel thought he looked a little grateful. "Yeah. There was a place down the road, want me to see if I can get it to-go?"

Dean's eyes lit up, "With the bakery sign? Yeah!" He tossed his keys to Sam. "Get something for breakfast too."

"Sure." Sam pulled on his jacket as he headed for the door. It seemed to Gabriel that the human had to make a concentrated effort to avoid looking at him.

As soon as the door shut, Dean turned around to face Castiel and they seemed to exchange a silent conversation. After a few moments the angel gave a small nod. He glanced at Gabriel before disappearing.

This should prove interesting, Gabriel thought. He hopped off the counter and crossed his arms. "So, how did I manage to deserve the sole attention of the great Dean Winchester?"

Dean appeared to barely be restraining his anger as he glowered at the archangel. "What the hell is your problem?"

Gabriel's eyes narrowed. "I am not the one with the problem here, Winchester."

"Why are you here?" Dean demanded. "Seems to me you're doing jack shit to help. Sammy's got enough to deal with without you messing around with his head!"

Tired of the accusations, Gabriel snapped, "Not my fault your brother's fucked in the head."

Dean's face turned red as fury radiated from his entire tensed body. "You... you son of a bitch! If your fucking family wasn't so sadistic and set on torture and dicking around with people's minds, Sam wouldn't be having issues! Maybe it wasn't just you, but you sure as hell share the blame."

Gabriel didn't know why he was letting the human get away with shouting at him. He could easily banish Dean somewhere inhospitable, or change him into something disgusting, or even just take away his voice. Instead Gabriel let the hunter rant and with every passing moment his own irritation rose.

"You should have stayed away. You should be helping him but you're just making it worse. I knew you'd end up hurting him. Shit, you should have stayed dead!"

"So Castiel and you Winchesters are the only ones allowed to come back from the dead?" Gabriel laughed without humor. "Doesn't it make you mad that Castiel's the only one getting Dad's preferential treatment? Apparently stopping the Apocalypse and sealing the Devil back in his box didn't warrant your brother's resurrection. Newsflash, Winchester: Daddy didn't see fit to raise me up, either. Hard to believe someone cared enough to bother with me when my 'teammates' didn't, huh?"

"As far as we knew, dead angel means millions of tiny bits only God can put back together. If you knew different, you should've put it in your little goodbye video. We were a little busy, what with collecting the Horsemen's rings and focusing on the plan you suggested!"

The words caught Gabriel off-guard. "What video?"

"Forget it!" Dean snapped. The anger didn't really seem to go away, but his shoulders slumped as he muttered, "You already have."

The hunter shook his head and returned to glaring. "Get out of here. We don't need your help."

Gabriel retorted, "I'm not here for you."

"Fine!" Dean jerked his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Help Cas but stay the hell away from me and my brother."

"My pleasure!" Gabriel sneered.

*

Gabriel landed on a stretch of empty beach overlooking the sunset. He bypassed sight-seeing and called, "Castiel! Get your ass down here!"

"Yes?" Gabriel whirled around to find Castiel standing behind him.

"Following me?" Gabriel asked, suspicious at his brother's instantaneous arrival.

Castiel gave a small shrug. "I suspected you would wish to talk."

"That's one way to put it," Gabriel agreed. "You listen in at the hotel?" Castiel shook his head. Figures, Gabriel thought. "Winchester mentioned a video. What gives?"

Blank-faced, Castiel explained, "Prior your death at Lucifer's hand, you recorded a message and gave it to the Winchesters. Your message included a way to defeat Lucifer when the option to kill him was no longer available. We collected the Horsemen's rings to open the cage."

Gabriel barely resisted the urge to sigh. "I offered the last hope to the hopeless?" He scrubbed a hand across his face; he felt pretty sure he was developing a headache. He was tired of the constant one step forward and two back. "I don't get it, bro. How did I get that committed to your little trio?"

Castiel remained silent for some time, his gaze seeming to study any minute movement Gabriel might make.

Around the time Gabriel prepared to demand answers, Castiel spoke. "It was not a trio. You were part of the team, brother." Castiel's eyes held a hint of sadness as he continued, "Your assistance and friendship were greatly appreciated. It was clear that you and Sam formed a strong connection."

Gabriel tensed at the memory of the youngest Winchester calling for him. "He's almost always screaming."

Castiel turned his head away, ostensibly to stare at the setting sun. It was difficult to read his expression. "I can only imagine the tortures he suffered at our brother's hands."

Castiel might imagine, but Gabriel had been privy to several scenarios that he knew to be more memory than nightmare.

"Deano thinks I should fix him," Gabriel said.

The younger angel dropped his gaze to the beach. "I don't believe you can," he replied quietly.

*

That night Gabriel could tell that Sam tried to keep his cries from reaching the angel. Eventually the attempt to muffle the shouts failed. Gabriel flew across the globe to lose himself in the busy, noisy streets of Hong Kong. The outside din wasn't enough to drown out the screams still echoing inside his head.

*

Act Three, Part 3

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
auntmo9
Oct. 20th, 2011 02:41 am (UTC)
This...this is not the kind of fic I could handle as a WIP... the angst, oh it is mighty!

I just want to knock some heads (even though they are all hurting and very much in character)
enmuse
Oct. 20th, 2011 02:57 am (UTC)
I try sooooo hard not to post WiPs now. (I still have *sigh* and it comes back to bite me, then.) This actually being complete and able to stand on its own is one of the reasons I'm proud of this! Over the past couple years it's been common for me to get ideas that work as a series of oneshots... that don't really have a series ending in sight, lol.
auntmo9
Oct. 20th, 2011 03:35 am (UTC)
Oh me too. I have one WIP that I haven';t gotten back to in so long because life and writer's block got in the way. And I have such personal guilt over it....But there are other things that have my attention now. *sighs*
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )