I am so so so very sorry at the extreme delay in updating this! I had beta issues, and real life issues, and then a fic to write for the Once Upon A Sabriel Big Bang (I'll be publishing that on the 13th July *grins*)...but it's a slightly longer than usual chapter, if that makes up for anything? (Although probably not, since compared to what some of my favourite authors call long chapters, this is still quite short...)

Anywho, you've all waited long enough, so with a quick thanks to everyone who has reviewed, alerted and favourited (You guys totally kept me writing and editing instead of letting this sit abandoned...especially the reviewers!), let's be on with the story, shall we? :-D


Sam blinked blearily as consciousness beckoned.

The first thing he noticed was the ache that suffused his entire body.

He tried to lift his head up off its pillow, but froze with a hiss at the feeling of hot knives sinking through his skull and directly into his brain.

He braced himself for more pain, and clenched his teeth as he let his head fall back to rest on its former cushion. His eyes – which had reflexively opened on waking and immediately squinted almost closed at the pain – fluttered shut as the breath he'd been holding escaped in a sigh.

It must've been a hell of hunt for him to be feeling this beat-up, he thought absently. Even his hair ached.

He was toying with the idea of going back to sleep - he was warm, comfortable, and Dean wasn't being his usual irritating self…opportunities this rare shouldn't be wasted! - when his pillow started to shake slightly, a low rumbling chuckle emanating from it.

With a start Sam quickly realised three things.

One: He hadn't been on a hunt recently - Dean had been side-lining him almost constantly.

Two: Pillows, as a general rule, did not move. Nor did they chuckle.

Three: Last time he'd checked, his bed most definitely did not have arms to wrap around him.

His instincts screamed at him to move, move now damnit, but between the bone-deep acheand a slight tightening of the arms around him, he wasn't sure he had that option.

Then there was the fact that, even though he had no idea where he was, he felt safe.

And with that thought, relief flooded him.

*Gabriel,* he realised.

He'd been searching for the Archangel, hadn't he?

He didn't need to look to be sure – he knew beyond all possible doubt, perhaps not where he was, but who he was with.

He had found his missing Archangel.

"The question is kiddo, how'd you manage it?"

There was an edge to the familiar voice that Sam wasn't sure what to make of, and he ached, and he was safe.

With that in mind Sam decided that maybe, just this once, ignorance was bliss.

He was going to go back to sleep for a while – everything else could wait, at least until his body stopped feeling like he'd been hit by a truck.

"Oh no you don't Sammy - if you're gonna do stupid things, you can damn well deal with the consequences. You and me need to have a nice long chat."

If he'd been a bit unnerved by Gabriel's tone before, now he was definitely worried.

He wasn't sure why, but the Archangel was clearly upset with him.

With a sigh Sam opened his eyes and looked up from where his head leant against his friend's chest.

"What did I do that was stupid? You needed help, I tried to help…I apparently didn't do a very good job of it since you've obviously been looking after me, but would you rather I hadn't tried?"

As he spoke Sam felt irritation welling up inside him. Where did Gabriel get off being pissed that he'd been trying to help? And surely if it was that stupid, Aziraphale wouldn't have told him how to do it, right?

"Zira? Zira told you how to find me? How did he even…"

Gabriel trailed off with a look of shocked wonder that Sam would have laughed at, if it hadn't been swiftly replaced with a fury so absolute that the seasoned hunter immediately pulled himself loose to scrabble away.

Even as he kicked himself for the faint look of hurt that flashed in the Archangel's eyes, Sam couldn't help recalling exactly what the being before him was capable of, and couldn't help thinking that if that anger was directed at him now he was so screwed.

SPNSPNSPN

When Sam had slept past the half-hour mark Gabriel had cranked up the temperature a bit, not wanting the hunter to catch hypothermia.

As far as figuring out how Sam had gotten there went - well, there he was still coming up empty.

It kept coming back to the fact that no-one knew where he'd gone.

No one could track him - he'd spent far too long perfecting being invisible for that. So how in Dad's name had someone managed to send Sam right to him? Why had his Grace flared at Sam's arrival? And what did it have to do with what had happened to Sam's soul?

When the hunter finally stirred slightly Gabriel breathed a sigh of relief - he'd been asleep for five hours and twenty six minutes, and Gabriel had counted every second with a growing sense of dread.

While the hunter was physically fine, there was no telling what damage had been done to his mind, and to his soul...

His relief when he started sensing some – slightly jumbled but very much there – thoughts from his Bond-mate was like a knot in his chest, choking him.

Sam's obvious discomfort as he dropped his head back down had Gabriel scanning his surface thoughts to find the problem, and he couldn't suppress a chuckle at what he heard.

As Sam's thoughts rushed full-steam ahead into panic, Gabriel tightened his arms slightly around the younger man and waited for him to calm.

That he did so almost instantly upon realising that he was with Gabriel stirred up emotions the Archangel didn't have time to deal with right now, so he pushed them aside and focused on Sam's thoughts.

*Yep, you found me…*

"The question is kiddo, how'd you manage it?"

He couldn't quite keep the frustration at the hunter's apparent disregard for his own well-being out of his voice, and he knew Sam had heard it.

*Bloody Winchesters!* he thought again. *Never seen a family last so many generations with so little a sense of self-preservation.*

Half of him wanted to let Sam rest, knowing just how shitty the man was feeling, but the other half needed facts - he needed to know if there was anything else he should be worrying about or watching out for. He needed to know how Sam had found him.

"Oh no you don't Sammy - if you're gonna do stupid things, you can damn well deal with the consequences. You and me need to have a nice long chat."

"What did I do that was stupid? You needed help, I tried to help…I apparently didn't do a good job of it since you've obviously been looking after me, but would you rather I hadn't tried?"

He would definitely rather Sam hadn't risked himself, but somehow he doubted the hunter would listen to him right now. Anyway, Sam's thoughts were more useful than his words at the moment…

"Zira? Zira told you how to find me? How did he even…"

Gabriel trailed off as he saw the memory unfold in Sam's mind.

What he saw shocked him into silence.

A Bond-walk…? But that would mean they had…that their Bond…it wasn't possible!

Even as his mind denied it, he looked again at Sam's soul and found a strange sort of sense in what had happened.

*But if he came through the Bond…*

That did it. Old friend or not, Brother or not, Gabriel was going to kill Aziraphale.

Gabriel found himself dragged from his thoughts when Sam pulled himself free from his hold, and the look on the hunter's face was one he'd hoped never to see again – especially not aimed at him.

Sam was afraid.

It was sort of ironic, that the only person alive with absolutely no reason to ever fear him was one of the few who actually allowed that he was something worth fearing.

Locking away the hurt – he could deal with it later if he had to – Gabriel moved towards the hunter.

Sam might be afraid, but a part of Gabriel was a little bit glad. The vindictive part of him that he'd spent centuries nurturing couldn't help but think that it was only fair that the human felt a little of the terror he'd felt on realising what could have happened to his Bond-mate thanks to his brother's stupidity.

He advanced on Sam, grabbing him by the shoulders tightly and drawing him in close as he hissed dangerously:

"Tell me, are you suicidal? Or are you just that big of an idiot? You had to look inside yourself to find your end of the Bond - where did you think you'd come out when you reached my end? You could've been killed Sam! An Archangel's Grace is not something you mess around with – and it's most certainly not something you try to pass through! Do you have even an inkling of just how lucky you are?"

SPNSPNSPN

"Tell me, are you suicidal? Or are you just that big of an idiot? You had to look inside yourself to find your end of the Bond - where did you think you'd come out when you reached my end? You could've been killed Sam! An Archangel's Grace is not something you mess around with - certainly not something you try to pass through! Do you have even an inkling of just how lucky you are?"

Pass through...? As in...pass...through...?

Sam felt a moment of panic as what Gabriel was saying sank in.

Except…he'd survived, hadn't he? He was still here, still breathing?

Suddenly Gabriel's anger made a whole lot more sense. Had Aziraphale known the risk he was letting Sam take…?

*It doesn't matter!* Sam thought as he realised something.

He hadn't even noticed before – the absence of a thing was far less obvious than its presence after all – but something had changed since he'd arrived at…wherever the heck they were.

The terrible all-engulfing sadness and pain that had driven him to such drastic and risky action was gone...

Sam paused. That much pain didn't just disappear in an instant, after all.

Closing his eyes briefly, Sam reached for the bond again, surprising himself slightly at the ease and speed with which he found it.

It was no longer over-flowing, but the darkness was very clearly still there. It was being held back by glowing white tendrils that seemed to pulse and tighten against it with the effort.

As the hunter drew closer, he felt a shiver of fear run up his back.

He pulled away, and it faded. It was odd - he had apparently nearly died (again!) and yet he felt perfectly calm, completely relaxed, until he focused in on the Bond. What about it scared him? He hadn't felt afraid when it was spilling over with darkness, so why now...?

Needing to understand, he turned his attention to it again and allowed it to draw him in. The fear rose within him, and he realised with a start what it was, and what it wasn't.

It wasn't his fear, it was Gabriel's...fear of what he'd done, of what had nearly happened - fear for Sam.

That's what the tendrils were - Gabriel's fear had caged his pain. His concern for Sam had pushed all thoughts of whatever had been wrong aside for now.

Sam pulled back and took a deep breathe to calm himself before opening his eyes. He wasn't sure how to deal with that particular piece of information just yet, so he wouldn't.

Right now, Gabriel was yelling at him for trying to help his idiotic Archangelic self, which was beyond hypocritical. After the shit he'd pulled earlier – nearly getting himself killed because he didn't think to call for help – he really needed to get his ass down off his high horse, and Sam was feeling more and more like helping him with that…with a not-so-gentle shove if necessary.

Gabriel's pain was something that still needed to be dealt with, sure, but for the moment it wasn't trying to swallow them whole…which was good – very good – as it gave them chance to deal with more immediate issues.

"Shit. Is that why..." Gabriel's hands fell from his shoulders, and Sam stumbled before catching his balance. "I didn't realise Sammy - I swear I didn't think it went both ways like that..."

And really? That was the biggest load of horseshit Sam had heard in a while, and he lived with Dean.

"Bull," he said firmly, "I told you. I heard you in the car, remember? I felt your injuries then. Is it such a stretch that I could feel this too?"

"I just...that's not how it should work kiddo - I didn't think..."

"No, you didn't think. You assumed that the stupid little human couldn't understand, couldn't help, couldn't feel. Dammit Gabe! You said yourself that it's all guesswork how this is going to work - "

"I know I did...I'm sorry Sammy, really I am – but I really didn't think… It's been a while since I had someone besides me to think about..."

Gabriel's voice caught in his throat, his words choked off.

However angry he might be, Sam knew that this really wasn't the time for a pissing contest. Tentatively, he raised one hand up, and when Gabriel made no move to stop him he placed it lightly on the Archangel's shoulder.

"It was Cas, wasn't it?" Sam asked, voice soft and slightly hesitant.

"What?"

"The last someone you tried to care about, to think about...the fledgling from your memory...it was all Castiel."

Sam's voice was stronger this time, Gabriel's shock making him more certain of his theory.

"What did he say to you? When you found him...what did he say to make you run here again?" Because by now Sam had seen enough to recognise the mountain-top from Gabriel's dream.

Sam watched as Gabriel's barriers crumbled before his eyes, and when he felt the onslaught of emotion through the Bond again he stopped questioning his instincts and drew the smaller man into an embrace.

"He thinks I left him - abandoned him to face punishment alone. He hates me Sammy..."

Gabriel's pain once again felt like it was Sam's own, but this time the hunter understood it. This time he knew what fed it, and he had an idea of how to help.

"He's been lied to for two thousand years Gabriel - he doesn't know you did what you did to keep him safe."

It was easier this time to control the flow of incoming emotion, and Sam found that if he concentrated he could even send some of his own back the other way.

Drawing ruthlessly on his own positive memories, Sam soothed and comforted the small form in his arms as best he could.

"Hate's still an emotion Gabe – you still matter to him or he wouldn't be so angry. Give him time, and you'll get your chance to explain eventually."

SPNSPNSPN

Sam and Dean (and their respective Angels) had been gone for hours now, and Bobby was sick to death of the scathing mother-hen jokes and soothing platitudes the Demon and his Angel were offering every time he happened to glance at the clock.

As far as the hunter was concerned, he had every right and reason to worry, and they could mind their own damn business, thank you very much.

After all, Heaven and Hell were still hunting them all, weren't they?

And the Winchesters probably hadn't developed common sense in the last few hours.

And as for those flamin' Angels…what the devil did they think they were playing at, running off in sulks like little kids? They were supposedly older than almost every other living thing weren't they? You'd think they'd have gotten over the stroppy teenage stage by now!

Yup, Bobby figured he had more reason than most to be concerned.

*If John Winchester could only see his boys now…* Bobby thought with a low chuckle.

It wasn't really funny of course. The elder Winchester would probably have had heart failure several times over at the goings on in his family recently.

Consorting with Angels and Demons, taking on the hosts of Heaven and Hell…and that wasn't even touching on the disconcertingly close relationships the boys seemed to be forming with two specific angelic beings.

Bobby headed for his religious texts with a huff.

He had a few minutes before Rufus was likely to ring back, so he might as well make a start on some insurance.

Sure, the Angels probably weren't going to betray them, but that didn't mean they weren't going to keep being idiots. Since shovels and shotguns weren't exactly going to seem very intimidating in this case, and Holy Oil was a little on the scarce side, he needed something else to hold over their heads in case they hurt his boys again.

SPNSPNSPNSPNSPN

The Fall

Michael knew what he had to do.

His orders were clear, and the wave of apology-sorrow-reluctance that accompanied their delivery provided no balm to his Grace.

His Bonded had done the unthinkable, had dared to question their Father…challenge their Father, and now he was torn between them.

There was never a question of which side he would take of course, but the pain of feeling his Grace try to rend itself between them…the pain of being forced to betray one so loved…

He could not take Lucifer's side, and he could not understand how any of their brothers could…how they could follow him into his madness…how they could turn on their Father…

The idea…even the suggestion of the idea…the thought that he would not follow the orders handed down, that he would not do as their Father commanded – it was repulsive to him. How had one who was the other half to his very Grace hidden such desires from him for so long? How had he failed to see, failed to save him from his foolishness…

…how had he failed?

Was it possible he had shared it enough to be blind to its extent? Had he, with all his knowledge, all his power…had he been a fool?

Was the fault with him then? With his own inability to comprehend the Father's plan for his second children?

He could not fathom what special potential his Father saw in these new creations, but he had believed that his lack of understanding was his own deficiency, or else that he was not meant to comprehend it.

The fact was, they were important. Father had decreed it, and as such it was sacrosanct.

But perhaps…

Maybe if he had understood…could he have led the Morning Star away from the path he now walked?

Could he have saved his brothers a war which would forever scar and taint them?

The questions ran freely through his mind but did not slow his flight. They would burn deeply into his Grace, but when the time came – as it swiftly would – they would not soften his blow.

His Father had ordered his brother…his Bonded…cast out by his hand, and so it would be.

And if the Bond pulled him down to share his brother's fate, well then he would accept it as his Father's judgement of his own folly.

The rage with which his Bonded fought against those he had called Brother clawed at Michael through the Bond, and he drew strength from it. Every Angel he felt fall to the swords of his brother and those who would share his fate strengthened his determination.

He had failed terribly, and the lives of so many of his brothers now laid heavy on his head. That he could not change.

But it ended here. No more would die! Though it tear him in two, he would find the will to end this…

As he reached the scene of what would be the final battle, his Grace clenched at the sight before him.

His Bonded stood, sword poised to strike, over the stricken and shattered form of Gabriel, and in that instant Michael found the last of the strength he needed to cast down the twisted, barely recognisable being he had once called anima mea.

Ripping the abomination away from his wounded brother, Michael put aside all thoughts of his own fate and, as he struck he had only one thought.

He had allowed his family to be torn asunder. Now he would suffer whatever consequences his Father deemed necessary willingly.

SPNSPNSPN

The Bond Breaks

Pain.

There was nothing else in the whole world…only pain.

His very Grace burned with it.

It ripped at the core of him and he knew nothing beyond it.

Time was meaningless.

The world beyond no longer existed.

There was no beginning and no end – there was only the agony that consumed his entire being. He could remember nothing of before, and conceive of no possible 'after'.

There was only the 'now'.

Only the burning.

Only the pain.

SPNSPNSPN

The Aftermath

An eternity passed in the single instant that saw the Bond snap.

Had he been spared or sentenced? He hardly knew.

When the first fire faded from his Grace, he could see his home and his brothers – those who remained – and yet he felt…

Empty.

Alone.

Incomplete.

Was this to be his own Hell then? His own punishment?

He had not seen what lay in Lucifer's heart in time to save him…too save them all.

How fitting was it then, that he could now see only the damage it had done to the hearts of the rest of his brethren?

They mourned brothers lost to disobedience. They mourned brother lost to the swords of those they had once loved and trusted.

Questions of how and why flared in the Graces of those surrounding him, and he could not bear it.

He had no answer for them.

Father was silent now – had he turned from them in his grief at what they had done? At what Michael had been too weak to prevent?

The soft pulse of Grace that brushed up against his caught him off guard. He flinched at the cold burn, the reminder of what was missing within…

He felt the Grace retreat, felt the pain and hurt as it went, and tried to wish that he had the strength to follow, the strength to comfort and soothe the youngest of the Archangels…

The burst of dismay and abandonment that chased after him as he ran from Gabriel and the rest of their brothers burned, even as he hardened himself against it.

How much more would his Grace withstand before the fire and pain consumed him?

Using what restraint was left within him, Michael pulled back from the pain for just long enough to send back an order to those he'd run from.

*Raphael, take charge. Help the injured, and strengthen the gates.*

With that he cut himself off from his brothers and ran as far and as fast as his wounded Grace could carry him.

As the agony within rose up to swallow him whole once more, only one thought rang clear in his mind.

He hadn't seen it coming.

How could he guard against it in the future when he hadn't seen it coming from one so intimately connected to him?

Had his love for Lucifer blinded him to his Mate's dangerous thoughts?

Would distance make his sight clearer?

Perhaps if he held himself apart from his brothers…perhaps then he could keep those who remained – those who had survived – safe.

Loneliness.

It was a word that he had known so far in abstract only – a concept that could exist, something his Father had previously created only the potential for…

It had become real, for Michael.

He had lost his Bonded, and he was a danger to his brethren.

He was truly alone.

Michael wept silently for his broken family.


Please review...seriously...I'm not sure what's going on with this fic, and my muse is totally taking control, and reviews are her life-blood... :-D