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{Fic} Stay (Awake) With Me | 6/10

Masterpost

Six: ____

Sam's feet were blistered and burned, but he knew he couldn't stop for longer than a few minutes. He had to keep going, keep walking if he was going to make it in time to—

The reason why escaped him whenever he tried to think of it. It flitted around the edges of his thoughts but he couldn't seem to catch it. He didn't know if the reason for its elusiveness was something paranormal or due to the more mundane reason of exhaustion. Whatever the cause, he didn't know what he could do about it. He just knew he had to press on.

The environment looked something like a desert, vast and bare and shifting ground underfoot that burned even with the lack of an overhead sun. The sky was cloudy and the color of twilight, but he wasn't certain of the exact time of day. If there was a time of day. He frowned at the thought, wondering where he was, when he was.

His feet ached.

*

"It's pointless, you know."

Sam looked up in surprise at the voice. Jess stood a few feet away on the sandy bank of the creek. Sam knelt at the river's edge with his hands scrubbing furiously beneath the water's surface.

"Jess? What are you...?" Sam pulled his hands free and shifted, preparing to stand up. Jess' gaze drifted down and he realized she was staring at his red hands. Blood-drenched. Sam quickly pulled back and hid his hands behind his back. Hesitantly he glanced up at his former girlfriend.

She looked at him pityingly and shook her head. "Don't try to hide what you've done, it's pointless. I thought you were smarter than that. Then again, you were always so stubborn."

"Jess, you're dead," Sam said quietly, needing to hear it aloud and confirm his dream state.

She shrugged and moved over to a tree trunk laying partway into the river. She sat and dangled bare feet in the water. "Whose blood did you think you were trying to clean off?" she returned.

Sam flinched and hunched his shoulders. "I couldn't have known," he whispered, already knowing the protest was futile.

"It was too much trouble to tell me you've always attracted things that go bump in the night? I was a big girl, Sam, I didn't know I was still supposed to be afraid of monsters under the bed." Jess propped her elbows on her knees and leaned forward, chin in hand. "Do you ever think about how everything could have been prevented if you'd never been born at all?"

Sam plunged his hands back into the river and resumed his scrubbing with renewed vigor. He scooped up small pebbles and stone and silt to scrub roughly over his deeply stained skin. Little trails of red drifted through the water and quickly carried away in the current, but he knew the stains weren't clearing; it was his own blood rising from new little nicks and cuts.

Jess continued to muse aloud, "Someone should have told your dad about you. There were clues, weren't there? Strangers with black eyes paying too much attention to you; supernatural creatures especially drawn to you; psychics avoiding you or getting hurt as soon as they got too close. John Winchester suspected but couldn't bring himself to examine those clues too closely. He was a fool, anyone else would have put the pieces together. He could have stopped it all, all it would take... well. So many options, right?" She smiled and Sam was captured by the beauty of it that didn't fit with her words. He knew this couldn't really be Jess, but he couldn't avoid reacting to her as if she was real.

It hurt, knowing she was right. He should have been killed long ago by his father or his brother, who had seen the world of the supernatural in black adn white, good and evil, normal and abnormal. It should have been taken care of before the shades of gray developed. Maybe then there wouldn't have been—

"I'm sorry," Sam said and meant it. "I wish you had never gotten involved, I should've been more careful." He stared down at his hands, still stained with red and now cut by the stone he'd tried to use in scrubbing. "But I can't change it, Jess. I can't go back and fix things. I'm trying... maybe I can still make a difference, make things better."

The laugh he got in response was not at all the Jessica he had known and loved. The laugh was harsh and cruel and cold as ice. Sam flinched at the unforgiving sound and had to fight the instinct to flee. Her laugh was dangerous.

"What possible difference could you make to improve things? You doom everything you touch, sweetie. Don't you understand that by now?" Jess swung her feet in the water, kicking up little ripples that ringed out towards Sam. "Who do you have left? Your brother? Bobby? The angels? They all died because of you or by your hand. It was a miracle they even returned. How long do you think it will last? Fate catches up, you know that."

Sam drew further into himself as Jess continued the onslaught of words. Each sentence sliced into his skin and dug deeper. He stared at his hands, determinedly avoiding looking at his former girlfriend's face, not wanting to see how much worse her expression might be compared to her voice. Were his hands darker than before? He knew the blood hadn't been up to his elbows earlier, though now he was streaked with blood there. His gaze caught on the smeared edges of bloodstains crossing the tattoo at his inner elbow. Gabriel's sigil looked faded and dull under the coat of blood.

"He shouldn't have remembered you," Jess said. "He would live longer." Sam's heart stuttered painfully in his chest at the words. Against his better judgment, he looked up. Jess' expression was hard and unforgiving without even a hint of pity. "What makes you think you deserve to touch him? I'm surprised your tainted soul didn't burn from his touch."

"Jess, please..." Sam begged quietly. "I know. I don't understand either. But he'll leave, he knows how to—"

"Protect himself?" she asked with a sharp laugh. "He shows a disturbing lack of self-preservation since meeting you," she continued scornfully.

Sam hung his head in shame. He unclenched his fingers and stared at his hands. It would be pointless to keep scrubbing, the river had turned red and thick with blood.

*

Sam lay tied on his stomach over scorching hot sand. He didn't know how he had returned to the desert after the river of blood, but apparently he had been laying there for a long time. He could feel dehydrated skin cracking open and the blisters on his feet leaking from open sores. It hurt his dry throat and lungs to breathe the scorching air. He closed his eyes; there was nothing to see in the endless sandy landscape, and the grains of sand that managed to get into his eyes hurt, making him tear up. He had to ignore the granules he breathed in with his cheek pressed firmly against the ground.</i>

He waited for what felt like an eternity, nothing happening beyond his body rebelling against the unbearable elements.

Finally he was joined by someone else. "You make quite the picture laid out here like some sort of sacrifice."

Sam's eyes opened abruptly and he blinked away the grit so that he could see. He tried to turn his head a little, ignoring the twinges of protesting muscles and skin that already felt too tight. Lucifer towered above him, standing little more than a foot away and just barely in Sam's range of sight.

Quite the predicament. Your mind is full of its own tortures, isn't it. You make it so easy, Sam." Lucifer smiled as he clasped his hands and looked down at the human. "We didn't try this one, you know, though it works quite well to break you down, doesn't it?"

Sam's voice came out as a croak past his dry, cracking lips, "Leave me alone."

Lucifer chuckled and crouched down near Sam's head. "Oh Sam, do you still think you're dreaming? I should feel honored that you apparently dream about me so often. Nothing could make you forget me for long." The Morningstar tilted his head up and closed his eyes as if focusing on a distant sound. "It was a decent attempt on the part of that upstart pagan goddess, but despite her ability to take you away, her little wall couldn't hold."

Sam stared fearfully up at the Devil, a knot of dread growing in his gut. Why would his dream be talking about this? Why wasn't he stuck in a flashback replay or at least listening to a more familiar taunt from Lucifer?

"You're not free, Samuel," Lucifer said, opening his eyes and returning his piercing stare to Sam.

"You're not here," Sam said, but even as he did, he could feel doubt and fear rising quickly. "You're in the Cage."

The Morningstar's lips widened in a sedate smile. His wings shimmered into existence as he leaned forward and stroked his fingers across Sam's cheek. "I wonder how long you can keep that delusion. No, Sam, this isn't over until I say it is." He pressed the fingertips of his pointer and middle finger firmly against the human's forehead, and with a burst of light, Sam exploded into a world of pain.

*

Sam awoke still screaming. His body burned and he didn't know if he wanted to curl up or stretch out as far as he could. He didn't know what could possibly make the pain more bearable. He could hear the echoes of Lucifer's words and dark promises.

When he realized he was awake and the pain was slowly – far too slowly – fading away, Sam stopped screaming. He couldn't fight the tremors and the occasional whimper of fear.

Gabriel stroked Sam's hair. With a full body shudder, Sam turned to bury his face against the angel's neck.

"It's okay, Sam, you're safe here," Gabriel inserted amongst his litany of reassuring murmurs. The archangel's touch was firm, real, and comforting.

Sam's breathing slowly smoothed out from the stuttering gasps for air that he had made when he first awoke. His fingers alternately clutched and let go of the angel's body pressed against his own. Gabriel felt hot, warmer than normal, and for a minute Sam tense with fear as the dream Jess' words returned to him: I'm surprised your tainted soul didn't burn from his touch.

"I've got you," Gabriel said, cheek rubbing slowly over Sam's head. "Sorry I couldn't block it."

Sam shuddered at the mumbled apology. Gabriel should have been able to stave off the nightmares. For a short time, it seemed that he had. But by now there had been too many nights of terror-soaked dreams and flashback slipping through the cracks of Kali's barrier.

Is Lucifer finding a way to break through from the Cage? How? Sam could feel his heart still pounding an irregularly swift pattern in his chest. He couldn't get it to settle while he felt like he was being watched by Lucifer.

"I know you Winchesters and the talking thing don't get on well, but I don't know how to help when I don't know what we're up against here." Gabriel shifted down the mattress so that he and Sam were face to face. "Let's start off easy. Flashback or nightmare?"

Sam closed his eyes against the angel's intense stare, even though it had been softened by worry and affection. Eventually he mumbled, "Nightmare."

"Okay. Where were you?" Sam shook his head. "Don't know? Fine, how about who was there?"

Sam's fingers clenched against Gabriel's skin as he flinched. Jess rarely haunted his dreams in person lately, which made it all the more difficult to handle her appearance. Nor had he talked with Gabriel much about the woman he had planned ot marry. That part of his life, while important, was a closed chapter, an irregularity of a few precious years that rarely seemed appropriate to talk about.

"Sammy?" Gabriel probed gently.

"Lucifer..." Sam admitted; it was easier to say the Devil's name. Hesitantly he also added, "Jess."

In response, Gabriel tucked Sam's hair behind the human's ear and brushed his fingers along Sam's neck. "I'm going to find a way to stop the nightmares. You won't have to keep dealing with this."

"What if—" Sam started but broke himself off as his brain caught up with his mouth. What if they're not just dreams? he wondered. If it is Lucifer, how can I ask you to fight him for me?

"Sammy, 'what if' what?" Gabriel trailed his hand down Sam's arm to the tattoo. Instinctively Sam relaxed, familiar by now with the angel's habit of infusing a little grace when he touched his sigil. The warmth that washed through Sam further ease the tension his nightmares had caused.

He shook his head and curled in close to the archangel. He nuzzled against Gabriel's neck and placed a gentle kiss of thanks against the sensitive skin.

"How about a movie?" Gabriel suggested, snapping his fingers and materializing a television at the foot of the bed. "I'm thinking... Ghostbusters."

Sam snorted in amusement as he heard the movie start. He shifted into a better position to watch, wrapping his arms around Gabriel's waist and laying his head against the archangel's chest.

*

"So what's on the big bad, boys?" Gabriel asked as soon as he had popped Sam and himself back to Dean's motel room.

Dean scowled mildly at their sudden appearance. "About time. We're ready to hit the road. Signs of bloodsuckers, so let's go before someone goes Twilight crazy."

"A worthy cause," Gabriel agreed with an overly solemn nod. Sam tried to stifle a snicker and received a wink. "Get some heads rolling... and maybe stake some ugly mugs in front of the doors of the people responsible for the latest waves of 'romantic' vampires. I'm sick of it."

"That—" Dean seemed to think that over. "We'll think about it."

Sam shook his head. "Come on, you can't be serious."

Gabriel's eyebrows arched haughtily. "Au contraire, very serious. Expcept for Joss Whedon. Leave him be, the man's done other things that make up for the vampire romances."

Judging by the thoughtful smirk on Dean's face, Sam thought Gabriel might have won some points with his brother.

*

Sam relaxed into the giant couch as he flipped through channels. Gabriel settled in at his side with a bowl of Chex Mix. Eventually Sam settled on a National Geographic special about oceans. The volume was set low since Sam was more interested in the images than the narration.

Gabriel curled up against Sam's side and nestled the bowl of snacks between them. Sam was thankful that his lover hadn't pressed the issue of sleep and seemed happy to relax on the couch.

After almost a half hour of sitting silently together, Sam asked quietly, "How are things going? In Heaven. You... haven't said."

Gabriel leaned back just enough that Sam could see his content smile. The angel resettled against Sam's shoulder as he explained. "It's not a huge barrel of laughs, but I don't sense any hint of outright war. Some of it is about the kids getting to spread their wings – pun intended." He scooped up another handful of mix before continuing. "It'll literally be ages before things actually calm down. The real worry had been Raphael, but we're good."

"Really?" Sam didn't restrain his surprise as he thought about what little he knew of the fourth archangel through Dean and Castiel.

"Really, really," Gabriel assured. He pressed a kiss to Sam's neck and the human could feel his smile. "Kinda better than I could've hoped." Sam had become attuned to reading Gabriel and now he could pick up on relief and a hum of joy.

Apparently Gabriel's smile was contagious. Sam felt his lips curve up in response to his lover's content. "I'm glad you got a chance to talk," he said after kissing the top of Gabriel's head.

The archangel batted at him playfully. "You call that a kiss? Try that again," he insisted, moving so that he was sitting face to face with Sam. With a smug look, Gabriel caught the fabric of Sam's shirt between his fingers and tugged. Sam followed willingly and tilted his head to avoid bumping noses. A pleased sound escaped Gabriel as he enthusiastically returned the kiss.

The kiss lingered into the casual brush of lips as Sam caught his breath. Gabriel had managed to crawl halfway onto Sam's lap and had spilled the Chex Mix. Sam felt and heard the crunch of snacks as he shifted into a more comfortable position in response to Gabriel's move. He made a face at the discomfort of crunched food, but a moment later Gabriel snapped and the mess was gone.

"You could make a fortune cleaning houses," Sam remarked. He shifted a laugh at the image that popped to mind of Gabriel dressed in the standard, conservative wear of hotel housekeepers.

"Shut up," Gabriel grumbled. He rested his head on Sam's shoulder and settled in. "Watch your damn show and stop picturing me as a sexy French maid." Sam could hear his lover's smirk in that comment. He groaned because of course that had sparked a plethora of images in his mind.

"I hate you," he complained, closing his eyes and tilting his head back against the couch.

Gabriel chuckled and trailed his fingers along Sam's ribs. "No you don't," he teased, "you lov~e me."

To that Sam had no counter to offer.

*

Gabriel tugged the lightweight blanket into place over his lover's shoulder. Sam had finally nodded off a few minutes ago, half sprawled on Gabriel's lap. Gabriel's fingers carded gently through his lover's hair as he watched for signs of nightmares.

If he could, Gabriel would banish every bad dream and replace them with the silliest, most innocuous images he could conceive. However, the "all-powerful" archangel label was something of a misnomer, particularly when it came to matters of the human mind. There was very little direct interaction he could initiate without risking harm. He had relied so long on his borrowed demigod powers to create and alter things in the external world because human minds were such complex and delicate things.

Despite what the humans might think, angels weren't mind-readers, not really. Sure they could hear prayers if they listened for their name – but with the potential billions of people who might call a name, Gabriel had long ago learned how to block the calls at will. He still picked up on things when dealing directly with humans, if he focused his attention, extended some of his power, and if the human was open – particularly if the human was projecting. Gabriel had learned of the depth of Sam's feelings for him in such a way, and he'd picked up plenty from Dean during months of close quarters; but such impressions weren't solid and details except on rare occasion.

Sam's mind had suffered from hosting Lucifer and the experiences of the Cage; yet instead of making it easier for Gabriel to get a read on Sam or enter his mind, some sort of barrier made Sam harder to read than other humans. Castiel had admitted to the strange silence he felt in the human's presence.

Dreaming humans were more susceptible to mental communication. When Sam had first returned from the Cage and while Gabriel was still missing memories, the archangel had responded to Sam's unconscious calls by investigating the human's dreams regardless of privacy. Since regaining his memories and admitting to visiting Sam's dreams, Gabriel had promised to keep dream contact to a minimum. Sam's aversion to having anyone poking around inside his head was perfectly reasonable; although Gabriel was beginning to understand that Sam wanted to keep him out for other reasons as well.

"You don't have to keep me in the dark, Sammy," Gabriel said quietly. He smoothed his thumb over Sam's eyebrow. Sam wanted to protect the archangel, had wanted to limit the knowledge of just how far his brothers had Fallen. Swallowing down a surge of emotion, Gabriel shook his head and went back to stroking Sam's hair.

There had been several times in the past couple weeks where Gabriel tried to wake Sam and investigate what was going on during the nightmares. Except for the night a couple days past when he'd forced the issue, he hadn't succeeded in interfering. His eventual success in getting through to Sam in the midst of a vivid flashback he expected was in part due to the drugged nature of Sam's sleep and the human mind's shock with the remembered events.

Whatever had been holding the graphic memories at bay – a barrier put in place by Kali? – was breaking down. Gabriel didn't know how to fix it, he dreaded making the situation worse.

So he sat with Sam's head in his lap as the human slept and watched for nightmares that he knew would unfortunately, eventually come.

***

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