Disclaimer: It's all CW and Kripke.
Author Notes: My first attempt at writing either Sam or Gabriel. Many thanks to my beta, rusty_armour who, as always, had very nice things to say and a sharp eye for detail. Enjoy!
THE BUDDY SYSTEM
Sam was only outside for five minutes, a beer in one hand and a book on harpy lore in the other, before Gabriel appeared suddenly, without any warning. Sam started, his beer sloshing over his hand in response. The archangel grinned widely, eating a candy apple. It wasn't an unusual way for a conversation with Gabriel to start.
"So how long are you going to mope for?" Gabriel asked, leaning over Sam's shoulder and way into his personal space by proxy.
Sam snapped the book shut before Gabriel could start making alterations. There were already several of Bobby's books that were never going to be the same again. The archangel didn't move. He was breathing right in Sam's ear. The candy smell was getting overwhelming.
"What are you talking about?"
"You and the moping," Gabriel replied, easing back out of view before appearing suddenly in front of Sam. "Is it the guilt? Or the angst? It's the Winchester way."
Gabriel tilted his head as he spoke, like Castiel would. It was creepy to finally see some sign of a family resemblance.
"I'm not moping."
"Oh, do you prefer 'navel-gazing'?" Gabriel finished off his candy apple with a slurp and made the stick vanish. "Tell me, what's the politically correct term for that bitchface?"
Sam glared because, seriously, only Dean got to say stuff like that, and took a swallow of beer, wiping his wet hand on his shirt. Seconds later, the hand felt heavy and sticky. Somehow, he was now holding a candy apple.
"Just thinking of your health," Gabriel told him with a grin.
And then he was gone. Not even the leaves on the cement stirred at his sudden disappearance. The only proof of him having been there at all was the candy apple. They always reminded Sam of this one really good time back when he and Dean were kids. There'd been a carnival, with cotton candy and fast creaking rides, and he and Dean had gone one afternoon while Dad was hunting. Dean had smiled a lot.
The candy apple tasted great.
Gabriel appeared again when Sam was in the library. Dean was out with Castiel, trying to hunt down a police report. The idea of Castiel convincingly impersonating.....well, anyone, was hilarious. "Not exactly stellar" had been Dean's snorted assessment of how Castiel had done before. Castiel had followed that up with a speech about lying and where it led to.
Sam was in the library's mythology section, marking pages for copying, when there was that candy smell again and then there was Gabriel, sat cross-legged on the carpet, a book in hand. He almost looked like a hunter.
"Oh, please, like this is a uniform," Gabriel snorted, gesturing to his jeans and plaid shirt over a worn band t-shirt.
"It kind of is."
"Ah, so you can do moping and sarcasm. Congratulations. I've had toasters with more variety."
"What do you want?"
"Right now? Pina coladas on a beach. Somewhere where it's cocktail hour."
And, just like that, a pina colada appeared beside Gabriel. It even had a paper umbrella in. Sam looked around, waiting for the inevitable moment when a beach's worth of sand appeared as well. Then Gabriel would probably disappear and leave Sam to explain it to the librarian. But nothing happened.
Gabriel looked wide-eyed and innocent when Sam turned his gaze back to him. There had always been another shoe waiting to drop before with the former Trickster. Not so much lately, though, which was out of character but welcome. Sam wasn't going to complain.
"Specifically, why are you here?"
Gabriel didn't reply, only threw the book he'd been reading at Sam. By the time Sam caught it, the archangel was gone. So was his cocktail. The book wasn't from the library. In fact, it looked like an antique. The cover was so worn that Sam couldn't make out the lettering on it. Inside was exactly what he had spent all morning searching for.
Gabriel made a habit of appearing whenever Sam was alone, which was increasingly often. Dean would be out drinking, or working on the Impala, or teaching Cas some new facet of being human that he insisted the angel should know, and then Gabriel would materialise. And, every time, in some small way, he was actually helpful.
It'd got to the point now that when Gabriel didn't turn up, Sam was disappointed. Because Gabriel wasn't just helpful. When he wasn't causing inventive headache-inducing chaos, he was pretty good company. He still needled and mocked constantly, but it turned out he also had a talent for distracting Sam from the stuff that festered inside his head and filled him with guilt. And the pranks he played on Dean were hilarious.
One evening, Sam was skimming missing persons reports on his laptop. Gabriel was sitting next to him, flicking through a comic book and eating chocolate and peanut butter cups. Their elbows were touching.
Gabriel hadn't specified why he was there. Sam had stopped asking.
He was more preoccupied by how much pain he was in. His ribs hurt, a lot. A gang of demons had really wanted to take Sam to their leader, which Dean and Castiel had been completely against. So had Sam, which had resulted in a lot of bruising and, so far, the usual meds weren't dulling the aches.
A hand touched his chest. Gabriel steadfastly stared at his comic. His grip on Sam managed to be both light and powerful. Sam could feel his body warming up, heat pouring slowly through him. His breath caught. What the hell?
Then Sam realised: his ribs weren't hurting any more, not even a little bit. Woah.
"You weren't going to stop bitching about it," Gabriel said, tapping his temple once before going back to his snacks and comic.
But the corner of his mouth curled up.
"Thanks," Sam managed, feeling like something important had just happened, no matter how casual Gabriel was being about it.
Still, he hoped, fruitlessly, he knew, from experience, that Gabriel would get out of his head. There was a lot of stuff there that he kept silent, and the thought of anyone, however dubiously well-meaning, seeing it made his stomach drop.
Lucifer in his dreams. More than once. Offering him Jess and Mom and Dad and his brother's happiness and Bobby's healed legs and the world being finally finally peaceful. And the times when Sam wandered closer to a "yes" because, all too often now, there were really hard days of overwhelming hunts, slaughtered civilians, arguments with Dean, and decrees, from Castiel that things were grave and the angels were still coming for them.
And, all the time, Dean was looking at him out of the corner of his eye, checking that Sam's answer wasn't going to change.
"It's getting crowded in there."
"Can you not do that?" Sam asked, because it didn't hurt to keep asking.
"When was the last time you dreamt without any visitors along for the ride?"
Sam paused. He couldn't actually remember.
"Did it ever get into your thick Winchester skull that this might not be a good thing? Here." Gabriel reached out and Sam instinctively backed up. "Okay, I'm offering you the good stuff. Sleep without little brother opening any doors."
"How do you know it'll work?"
"I'd say 'trust me,' but…." Gabriel's expression twisted into an ironic smile.
Dean would be furious to know it, but Sam actually wanted to do exactly that – trust the archangel. Gabriel had done a lot to prove himself at least partially trustworthy. But it really wasn't that long ago that the former Trickster had wanted Dean and Sam to play their preordained roles, even if he hadn't tried anything since he'd dropped back into their lives.
Gabriel sighed, long-sufferingly, affecting a look of wounded innocence. Or maybe it wasn't so affected. He sat up and gave the bed over to Sam.
"You notice your brother sleeping better? Castiel's literally keeping Hell at bay in Dean's mind."
That explained a lot. More than once, Sam had woken to find the angel sat on Dean's bed, an intense look on his face. It'd been more than a little creepy and uncomfortable, like he was interrupting something he really shouldn't have. Maybe Dean didn't even know who was helping him out. He probably hadn't asked.
"I have the technology." Gabriel wiggled his fingers with a smirk.
"You also wanted Lucifer to wear me," Sam pointed out.
"Please, if I was playing for that team, I'd have squashed your mind like putty way before now and served you up on an altar."
That was so far from reassuring. Sam felt suddenly sick and cold. It was easy to forget just how powerful Gabriel was when all he seemed to use his powers for was conjuring up his every flippant desire. Gabriel was smirking, like he knew exactly what Sam was thinking and was enjoying it a lot.
"What changed your mind?"
Gabriel twitched, like he really didn't want to reply. But Sam raised his eyebrows, pointedly waiting him out. He'd spent a lifetime getting Dean to talk: an archangel actually wasn't much of a challenge in comparison.
"You and your brother. You know how it's going to end and you keep on fighting it. And you're still here, in your own mind. You could actually...."
He paused. Sam didn't think he'd ever seen Gabriel so still. The archangel sighed.
"I like this place, okay? There's good food and good times and plenty of morons who need to be taught a lesson. If Lucifer gets control or Zachariah gives it a makeover…….." Gabriel shook his head. "All the good stuff'll be gone."
"What about your family?"
Gabriel stilled for a beat and then shrugged harshly. "Tough love. They've been throwing that around for centuries. Anyway, Dad's been gone so long, I don't even know which side he'd be on."
That last part was a lie. Growing up Winchester had taught Sam the importance of what people didn't say aloud. Reading between the lines kept you alive. Gabriel thought that what Sam, Dean, and Castiel were doing was right and he was willing to help, even if he didn't think it could be done.
Maybe he was trying to do the right thing after running away from it for so long. It wasn't a stretch to say that Sam could relate.
The archangel shook off his melancholy and the Trickster expression slid back over his features.
"Okay, Dr Phil, so do you want a Lucifer-free sleep or not? Limited time offer only."
Sam took a deep breath. At this point, he was willing to try anything to escape Lucifer's enticing arguments rolling around his mind, trying to get a grip. He just wanted to sleep.
Without warning or ceremony, Gabriel brushed his fingertips against Sam's forehead. He muttered something in a language Sam didn't recognise. Then Sam could feel himself slipping down quickly into unconsciousness. There was a feeling like a window had been opened and the wind had gotten in.
There was.....humming? It sounded familiar, soothing, and there was a presence with it, like the sheer power of the tide coming in and out. It was the last thing Sam remembered before sleep dragged him under.
He didn't find dreams there. All he could recall later were vague images, dark and light. It was peaceful, though. Sam had almost forgotten what a good night's sleep felt like.
When he woke up the next morning, more refreshed that he had been in too long, there was a strong hot coffee waiting beside his duffel – M&Ms were floating in it, impossibly bobbing in a smiley face formation, like a calling card – and Dean was asleep on top of the covers of the other bed, like he'd collapsed there, breathing heavily.
After that, Sam found himself regularly falling asleep to the crunch of chewed candy, a low sound like birds flying, and the feel of a soft breeze blowing through the room. Gabriel was always gone by morning.
Sam was grateful for that. He was sure explaining how Gabriel was actually helping him sleep wasn't going to satisfy Dean, even though it meant Sam was now a lot sharper during hunts and despite Castiel's night-time residence. Cas was always the exception.
Then, one night, after a car loudly backfired in the motel parking lot, Sam started awake in the darkness and felt fingers in his hair. The last time he'd found someone in his bed, Jess's lovely features had melted into Lucifer.
He struck without thinking, twisting out of the grip and reaching for the knife tucked under his pillow. But his target wasn't there any more.
"Relax. I'm not after your virtue."
There was a very familiar finger snap and then light suddenly filled the room. Sam squinted; Gabriel was comfortably sat on his bed, chocolates spilling into his lap. He looked like he hadn't moved for hours.
"What's going on? Where's Dean?"
"Your brother's with mine. He's in very safe hands." Gabriel waggled his eyebrows. Sam made a face, trying vainly to shut out the images that created, true or not. "And you were asleep."
"Here for the scenery and the thrilling heroics, obviously."
"It's after 3am. I thought you….."
"Fly the coop the moment you snooze? It's not that easy, Sam."
It wasn't? Sam scratched his head, trying to get his sleep-fogged mind to clear. Dean out with Cas was normal by now. But Gabriel voluntarily sitting and watching all night in a dark motel room while Sam slept definitely fell into unnerving uncharacteristic territory.
"Keeping my brother out of your head takes work and concentration. Much as I'd like to, I can't do it while I'm enjoying carnival in Brazil," Gabriel informed him. "So, here I am, torchbearer and watchtower, doing the creepy stalker gig to keep you clean."
Sam's eyebrows rose. That was……something. It was going to take a little time to process. Sam began by sitting down on Dean's empty bed, relaxing his grip on the knife. So, every night he'd slept well, Gabriel had been beside him, keeping Lucifer back. Sam had the sudden dizzying feeling of being very small. It wasn't something he experienced all that often.
"Is it……Does he talk to you?"
Gabriel snorted. "He never stops. Yack, yack, yack - about how disappointed he is in me becoming so human, blah blah blah. Having a good time never was on my brother's 'to-do' list."
Gabriel twitched a shrug. He looked tired and sort of crumpled. It was the most human Sam had ever seen him, without the Trickster's smirk and quips distracting and covering everything else up.
"Family sucks," the archangel said simply. "You love them, but sometimes it's not enough."
Maybe it was a warning or Gabriel letting slip something he usually kept hidden. Sam frowned. Way back before angels had ever entered his and Dean's lives, he'd have agreed with Gabriel. Sometimes, he still did.
His head protested, sudden and sharp. A werewolf had knocked him down hard earlier and he'd landed awkwardly. Dean had gotten away with only bruises.
"A couple of preschoolers could take you out right now," Gabriel commented, his smirk back in place as he looked Sam up and down.
He snapped his fingers and Sam found himself on his back on his bed. The knife was returned to under his pillow.
Gabriel's fingers hovered over his forehead. "As much fun as this has been, sleep is first on the menu right now, Sambo."
There was that bird-flying noise again, and Sam forced an eye open in time to see inky black shadows spilling out against the wall and headboard. It took a moment for his sleep-slippery mind to make sense of them. But, then, they all snapped into focus; a clear feathered pattern.
Woah. They were Gabriel's wings.
Sam could feel that awe again, like when he was a kid in Pastor Jim's church, listening to stories and seeing paintings of angels and thinking about how powerful and strong they looked, protective. How much he and his family needed one. How they'd keep him and Dean and Dad safe and how hard he used to pray. How full of hope he'd been.
Gabriel's wings were amazing, shimmering in the dark, liquid and translucent in the way they moved. He couldn't take his eyes off them.
He hadn't seen Castiel's wings when the angel watched over a sleeping Dean.
"Do angels sleep?" Sam muttered.
"It's kind of adorable how your mind drifts." There was a pause and then Gabriel answered him. "Sleep works in a pinch away from home."
There was a sadness under his words. Sam wanted to pat his shoulder or something, but whatever Gabriel did to get him to sleep was already working, so he also didn't want to move at all. That desire won.
"You can't recharge outside of Heaven?"
Gabriel laughed, but there was an edge of bitterness to it. "Heaven's power battery hasn't got wi-fi, Sammy."
Sam could feel fingers in his hair again in the silence, then movement, like Gabriel was sliding down beside him. Something soft – feathery? – brushed his shoulder, his face. It didn't tickle. He reached for it, felt something silky through his fingers and what could have been Gabriel's broken breath, hot next to his ear. Both sensations were good.
The hand on Sam's head squeezed gently. Another hand tangled with his fingers. Any response he could make to that slid away into dreamless sleep.
Dean was there in the morning. So was Gabriel.