Disclaimer: It's all The CW and Kripke.
Author Notes: My thanks, as always, to rusty_armour for betaing with such patience and skill.
Sam was used to nightmares. It had always been Jess burning up and screaming back when he'd started hunting again. Now, it was usually Dean or Cas being torn apart and always Lucifer's honeyed reasoned arguments, as the Morning Star stood smiling with a mouth full of blood or......There were a lot of hellish images and Sam could remember every single one. Some mornings he had to throw up.
But this dream was just inexplicable. Sam was surrounded by sharp-edged buildings and smoke, like one of the old black and white movies that were always inevitably playing on motel televisions. It was raining hard and was that thunder in the distance? Sam shook wet hair out of his eyes.
There was a smell like burning feathers and Gabriel literally dropped in beside him. That explained a lot.
Gabriel glared, something behind him disturbing the rain.
"Are you inside my head?" Sam glared back, graduating from annoyed to pissed-off.
Gabriel gave him a look that clearly said well, obviously. He looked both unrepentant and extremely irritated with his surroundings.
"The answer's still 'no',"
"Oh, Winchester," Gabriel sighed. "Everything's always got to be about you, hasn't it?"
"So everybody tells me," Sam replied pointedly.
Gabriel snorted with surprised laughter, shooting Sam an amused look. "Careful, Sammy, you're in danger of growing a sense of humour."
The rain was falling harder now and Sam couldn't suppress a shiver. Lightning forked across the sky, unnervingly close by. Weirdly, Gabriel looked cold too, his clothing now as soaked as Sam's. Castiel always managed to keep himself dry in the rain.
"Tell my brother to watch his back," Gabriel said suddenly, intensity wiping out any trace of the Trickster in his expression.
Sam opened his mouth to ask what the Trickster was doing and ask why the gross weather, when suddenly his clothes were dry and he was staring at the motel ceiling. Dean was passed out on the other bed, snoring loudly.
Castiel looked quizzical when Sam passed on the message. Then his expression morphed into Cas's version of worried. That couldn't be good.
"Did Gabriel say how he found you?" Castiel asked.
Sam shook his head. God, he hadn't even thought of that. He'd been too pissed-off that Gabriel was invading his headspace. Castiel's expression deepened.
Sam's dreamscape was different the next night – it was a desert this time. The horizon shimmered and the heat was unbearable. There was no shade at all for miles around. Sam pulled off his sneakers and rolled his jeans up. What the hell was going on?
It reminded him of Lawrence of Arabia, watching it at college at the end of an all-nighter. Jess had curled up against his side, laughing into his skin as he'd drowsily raved about the movie and Lawrence's heroics.
Gabriel appeared beside him, holding a large striped umbrella. He muttered something in a harsh-sounding language and stuck the umbrella point first into the sand. He pulled on a pair of sunglasses.
"Seriously? This is what you dream about?" Gabriel was unimpressed as he stripped off his jacket and plaid overshirt. "You have a dangerous lack of imagination."
He yanked the umbrella out of the sand and opened it with a snap, covering himself in shade. He looked weirdly, Sam noticed, like a perfectly ordinary tourist - harmless and human and glad to be out of the sun. That illusion was broken when Gabriel caught sight of something over Sam's shoulder. Something like worry slid quickly across his face.
"Time to leave, Sammy."
There was a huge burst of sound then and Sam turned to see what appeared to be a tornado ripping across the dunes. His heart pounded. Was there even a way to avoid the path of a tornado?
He woke up, breathless and safe. There was sand in the bedclothes.
Sam researched. Dream interpretation had vastly varying theories. Maybe it was all a game plan of Lucifer's to disorientate him as the Apocalypse thundered closer. That was more than possible.
Gabriel's presence was the thing that stuck out. The archangel had given no reason for his appearances. And he hadn't once snapped his fingers, as if there was no point in even trying.
That night, Sam found himself under the ocean. He was inside a shipwreck, a beautiful crumbling thing. The figurehead was a stunningly-rendered mermaid and felt smooth to the touch. Sam wasn't wearing diving gear, but, impossibly, he could breathe just fine. It was just like a dream he used to have as a kid after reading about Captain Nemo, thinking about how awesome it must have been to go right down under the waves and explore.
A moment later, the archangel appeared. He gave Sam a pitying look. "You're just a therapist's dream, aren't you?"
"Apparently, you watched The Little Mermaid one time too many as a kid……"
Sam shook his head, cutting Gabriel off. "Seriously, why are you doing all this?"
Gabriel shifted. Behind him, the water swirled like it had been disturbed suddenly. He leaned against the side of the wreck.
"Ah, I can't take full credit for all this glorious Technicolor. That would be you."
"You're telling me you didn't recognise any of them?" Gabriel sighed heavily, sounding very put upon. "Of course you didn't."
Before he could continue, the wreck shuddered. Sam stumbled, almost into Gabriel. The archangel steadied him and glared outside. Sam's eyes went wide, his breath stuttering; there were sharks circling and they were apparently extremely eager to get in.
Gabriel gripped his arm. "Beam me up, Sammy."
"Why can't you…..?"
Sam gasped in stale motel air. It was still dark outside and slivers of moonlight cut the room to pieces. Dean wasn't in his bed, not that unusual since Cas had been along for the hunt the past few days. Sam sat up. This was all too strange, even by Winchester standards.
There was no reply.
Sam talked to Castiel in the morning when Dean went to get breakfast. The angel tilted his head.
"Listen, I know it sounds kind of farfetched….."
"It does not," Castiel assured him. "It sounds…. unnerving."
"It was, is," Sam agreed, running a hand through his hair. "Do you have any idea what your brother wants?"
Castiel shook his head, a sorrowful bent to his posture. "I have asked for Gabriel's assistance many times since he revealed himself. But he has not replied. I assumed he was keeping himself hidden once more."
Because even if Gabriel was an ass, he was still Castiel's brother and Castiel was definitely without family support right now. Sam could empathise, a lot.
"He has not harmed you," Castiel continued contemplatively.
Sam frowned, but nodded. It was one of the oddest parts of the whole thing – Gabriel's behaviour. Sometimes, it had almost felt like Gabriel had been intentionally keeping him out of danger, guiding him almost. What had changed his mind?
"Be careful, Sam."
"I will, thanks." Sam hesitated. "Could you not tell Dean about this?"
Dean would freak out and Sam did not need another run of 'Sammy needs to be under constant surveillance.'
Castiel nodded slowly. "I understand."
Sam smiled his gratitude just as Dean kicked the door open, bacon sandwiches in one hand and a tray of coffees in the other. He tossed the local paper to Sam, and Sam immediately began scouring it for links to their current case. The distraction of hunting was exactly what he needed.
Sam blinked. No, he was still inside what appeared to be the Smithsonian. The empty Smithsonian. This definitely topped the list of 'Weirdest Dream Locations.' It was bad enough that Sam could now construct a list like that.
"It's official - you are the nerdiest hunter in the history of your sorry line of work."
Gabriel was folding his arms, looking around with an unimpressed expression. "You have my total pity if this is one of your dream scenarios."
"I haven't dreamt about the Smithsonian since I was ten. What's going on, Gabriel?"
"Hey, it's your giant head. You can pull whatever rabbit you want out of the hat," Gabriel waggled his eyebrows. "Though, apparently, you need lessons in just how awesome that can be."
Sam ignored him, mentally lining up his recent dreams - the rain-drenched film-noir landscape, the Lawrence of Arabia desert, the ocean floor, the Smithsonian. They all linked together with sudden clarity. Sam's eyes went wide. Gabriel grinned.
"I think he's got it."
"I used to dream about them: the desert, the ocean, all of them, back before ……"
"Lucifer started paying you night-time visits? Excellent work, Sherlock. Welcome to your favourite escapes."
Gabriel was smirking, but there was something behind his expression. Sam's brow furrowed. Gabriel was worried and, if previous dream experience was anything to go by, that was not a good thing.
"Okay, but that doesn't explain why you're here."
"You mean you don't dream about me? I'm wounded, Sammy."
Sam gritted his teeth, giving the archangel a pointed look. Just because Gabriel had been behaving for the past week did not mean he was no longer planning to lead Sam and Dean to their 'destiny' as meat suits.
There was a flutter behind Gabriel, an outline for a second. Sam caught his breath. The shapes had looked like…..
The whole room shook. An exhibit next to them shattered explosively, debris raining down on them. Gabriel caught hold of his arm and dragged Sam under the huge staircase. Sam held on tight; Gabriel had started to feel like a lifeline. Gabriel's eyes fixed on him and Sam could feel his heart stumble, like he was being pinned to the spot.
"We need an exit, Sam."
"Why can't you just zap us out of here?"
"Let's just say my brother's getting inventive. Come on, Sammy, before we get buried alive."
Gabriel increased his grip and his eyes never left Sam. Sam could feel himself focus in response. The next minute, he was back in the motel. Castiel was sat beside a sleeping Dean. He looked up when Sam opened his eyes.
"Another dream, Sam?"
Sam nodded. "I don't know what's going on, Cas. But I think Gabriel just told me it was Lucifer."
Cas's expression darkened. He slid away from Dean's side, trench coat flapping as he joined Sam.
"Apparently he's getting 'inventive'."
"To distract you? It is likely," Castiel mused, before his gaze returned to Sam. "That is all?"
Sam hesitated. "…..Yeah, pretty much."
Castiel fixed him with a piercing look, but Sam offered a tired watery smile and made noises about wanting to try to and sleep again before dawn. The angel didn't push. Sam couldn't explain it, but he didn't want to tell Cas that he thought he'd gotten a glimpse of Gabriel's wings.
The next night, Sam was expecting the dreamscape he found himself in: a library, almost identical to the one near Pastor Jim's church. He was in the mythology section, books spread out on the table before him. They were all marked at pages about dreams and angels.
"Your fantasy life is disappointingly vanilla."
Gabriel appeared opposite him, jelly beans spilling out of his hands onto the pages. Sam brushed them away.
"I control what happens here?"
"Not everything," Gabriel was unfazed by the rapid subject change. "Lucifer's made his mark. He's really wormed his way in. I've gotta hand it to him: kudos for adapting his game plan."
Sam swallowed down bile. Lucifer had gotten rooted inside his mind, influencing what he dreamt. That didn't feel like they were winning at all.
"He can't make you do anything," Gabriel reminded him. "So he found a loophole."
Gabriel nodded. "All that blood and pain before, and now all the disasters that keep cropping up? That would be all him."
"I thought he didn't want me dead?"
"He doesn't. If you die here, you'll still be ripe and healthy when you wake up. But he can scare you." Gabriel's eyes gleamed. "He can make it seem real and make you beg. He can make you feel like there's no escape."
Sam was silent, dread crawling up his spine. It made a sick sort of sense. His dreams had been a particularly terrifying brand of horror for weeks before Gabriel appeared, like every nightmare scenario Sam had feared since Lilith's death. If it felt real enough, inevitable enough, pushed Sam to the brink so much that a 'yes' slipped out in his desperation for it all to stop ….
"If I agreed in here? That would count?"
"Oh, yeah. Lucifer knows how to play the angles."
Sam nodded slowly, various puzzle pieces slotting together now. "He's blocking your powers, isn't he?"
Gabriel laughed, not sounding amused at all. "A little precaution built in for Cas. So I can get in, but, then……"
"You're stuck," Sam scooped up a handful of the jelly beans thoughtfully. "So why do you keep coming back?"
Gabriel's gaze measured him. It felt weighty, powerful, like he was in the presence of an extremely strong entity. Gabriel was suddenly all archangel, not a shred of pagan god anywhere. Goosebumps rippled over Sam's skin. It was like an electric current. He felt as though he should hold his breath.
"My secret's not so secret anymore, Sammy," Gabriel's voice was quiet. "I can't go back to being Clark Kent, thanks to you and Deano."
"So you're what? Hiding? Inside my head?"
"Only when you sleep."
"How did you even find us?"
"You've got yourself a very handy angel GPS travelling with you. Little brother's not as smart as he thinks he is."
Sam shut his eyes. He hadn't thought of that, and, clearly, neither had Dean or Castiel. There were still more answers he needed though.
"You said you couldn't take full credit for this….."
There was that gaze again and Gabriel's fingers brushed against his wrist. Last month, Sam had been tortured in his dreams; manacles had bitten into his wrists. The right one had broken sickeningly. It had felt so real. And Gabriel was looking at him like he knew. Sam inhaled sharply.
"I've been hiding in here for a while, Sammy. It was only a matter of time before my brother noticed, so I plugged you into something a lot more comfortable for both of us." Gabriel gestured expansively. "It's always your choice."
Sam frowned. "So why can't Lucifer change it back? I mean, why hasn't he gotten back in here himself?"
"Give him time. He'll pick the locks I installed, even if you are a lot stronger upstairs than the average monkey thanks to Azazel's nursery visit, especially now you know the game plan."
Sam winced. Like he needed reminding of that. He felt like disparate memories and theories were becoming coherent to him now, like writing a Stanford essay used to feel. It was all leading somewhere. Maybe there was a way to keep Lucifer out permanently.
"But if you think your untrained brain can take on my brother and win? It's not going to happen."
Sam caught hold of the lure than he was sure Gabriel had dangled there on purpose. "I can train?"
Gabriel looked at him appreciatively. "It's possible."
Sam stared. Was it too much to hope it was all true? It gave reasonable answers to a lot of the questions he'd had, but Gabriel was still hiding something. Sam was positive.
He grasped Gabriel's arm suddenly, looking at him intently. If Gabriel was right and Sam now did have the majority of control here, then he should be able to see what he wanted to - the truth.
It was like a veil had been torn away. Gabriel had a split lip, bruises around his neck like someone had choked him, and deep nasty-looking infections on his arms. In complete contrast, spread out behind him was a beautiful shimmering pair of wings.
Sam gaped. The wings were dark, almost black, and all the feathers glistened in the dim light. But one of the wings was hanging in a way that looked wrong and uncomfortable. Like someone had done something purposefully painful.
Gabriel did not look happy. "Gee, thanks a lot, Sammy. Having fun?"
"Not really," Sam was sympathetic. "Was that your brothers? When they found you?"
Gabriel sighed and Sam let the injuries disappear again. "Apparently, a simple 'hello, how you been?' wasn't enough."
His wing was hanging badly. Sam was hit by a compulsion to reach and touch it, just to see what it felt like, to find out if maybe he could help.
"But you got away, right?"
Gabriel snorted, his wings bristling. He pointedly didn't answer. He still hadn't fought Sam's hand off his arm. Sam softened his grip.
"Why are you doing this, Gabriel?"
Gabriel sat back in his chair, looking exhausted. He'd essentially become a fugitive, like them, Sam realised.
"You're not exactly toeing the party line, Sammy," said the archangel. "And you're getting things done, things that shouldn't be possible.
His voice drifted off for a while. He looked lost in his thoughts, fingers manipulating the jelly beans into some kind of sigil on the table. Sam couldn't make sense of it from where he was sitting. He really wanted to be leaning over Gabriel's shoulder.
"Cas misses you," he offered suddenly.
"Cas misses everybody," Gabriel pointed out. "He's young."
"That doesn't mean he'll get over it," Sam replied just as quickly, with all the experience of a younger brother. "He wants his family back too."
"He wants Dad back and we're all fresh out of miracles."
Sam thought about him and Dean appearing on an airplane when Lucifer made his entrance, Dean learning to trust him again after everything. He shook his head slowly.
Gabriel's expression was almost soft around the edges. His fingers became a caress against Sam's skin. Sam closed his eyes. There was something else crawling up his spine now.
Dean stared down at him. Sun was streaming in through the motel window. Sam took a deep breath, feeling disorientated. Apparently, Castiel was using the bathroom because there was water running. Dean was smirking.
"Hey, whatever you were dreaming about….."
"It's private, Dean."
The grass was soft and comfortable underneath him. The sun was warm on his face. Somewhere close by, there was a BBQ going. Sam felt someone lie down beside him.
"You're getting better."
Sam opened an eye. "Thanks."
It was getting to the point now where he was actually looking forward to sleeping. Lucifer hadn't made a personal appearance in weeks, but the dreams did still break down eventually, forcing Sam out of his own head, unless he wanted to die horribly and repeatedly. Lucifer was still trying to claw his way back in.
Castiel and Sam had agreed to tell Dean, who predictably hadn't been happy about what was going on. He'd grudgingly allowed that Lucifer being somewhat locked out of Sam's head could only be a good thing, as was Sam actually getting more than two hours sleep a night. After talking with Gabriel, Cas had decided to believe him so far, although he had learned to be wary of any of his brothers.
Gabriel hummed, his side pressed against Sam. He was eating a candy bar. Sam could feel Gabriel's other hand on his knee, drawing something. A sigil? Something like protection?
He couldn't stifle a yelp when half-melted chocolate ended up suddenly smeared over his fingers or the gasp when a clever tongue began licking it off. Sam tried hard to focus.
"How long 'til Lucifer fights his way back in?"
"Maybe another month."
Sam turned onto his side, so that he could look at Gabriel properly. He still hadn't shown up outside of Sam's dreams. A safety precaution, apparently, to stop any of the Host snatching him again. Dean had muttered about the selfish limits of how far Gabriel was willing to put his ass on the line to help them. Castiel had reminded him that he had been much that way once too.
Sam spent the most time with him. He felt……..anchored, strong, like Gabriel wasn't going to let go. He hadn't so far.
Gabriel was looking back, shrewd golden eyes focused on him. Sam breathed in the entirely imagined clean fresh air.
The archangel grinned brilliantly, like he knew something Sam didn't. He probably did and Sam wanted to absorb it all. "You're still seriously screwed, Winchester."