Sam stared up at the Sorority house, a faint scowl on his lips.
"I am not happy with this." Gabriel muttered from the seat behind him, making Sam jump. It had been both reassuring and annoying to know that, even at half power, Gabriel was as powerful as Castiel had been to start with. The archangel was glaring at him now.
"Why aren't you in there with her?"
"Dean went in with her. I thought I should stay in the car. I'm not feeling too good." Sam stifled a yawn. It was true; he had barely slept at all last night, managing only a few hours of very light dozing. He was not up to dealing with Sorority girls. Gabriel continued to glare.
"Dean? Really? I'm trusting my daughter's survival at some haunted Sorority house to your meat-head brother?" Gabriel sat back in the seat and huffed. "I am not happy."
"Well, suck it up." Sam shifted around in the seat to glare at him. "Hella's old enough to take care of herself... you know, you wouldn't be here if she couldn't."
Gabriel sent him a glare that could cut diamonds.
"She's an adolescent. You've taken my adolescent daughter, covered her in make-up to make her look older, and thrown her to rabid play-boy-bunny pledges."
"Would you like to do it instead?"
Gabriel scowled again, looking out of the Impala's window and up to the house. They'd already had this argument, and Gabriel had already conceded that he was not well enough to hold an illusion for anywhere near long enough.
There had been five pledges from this sorority abducted and killed, under suspicious circumstances. The research they'd done led them to the verdict that it was probably a ghost, which was a simple, straightforward case to ease Dean back into hunting and out of his increasing agitation. Bobby had practically thrown him out of the auto yard. Everyone knew he was obsessing about Cas, but his specialised Winchester self-medication of drinking, eating and internalising meant he wouldn't be talking about it any time soon.
"Hey, how are you and Hella?" Sam realised this was the first time he and Gabriel had been alone since the angel had come back. If he was on their side now, they may as well talk.
"Fine. I mean, she's a bit shaken up about the whole torture thing, but we're fine. Why, shouldn't we be?"
"Well… it's been what, fifty years since you last saw her? Isn't there… I don't know, distance?"
Gabriel blinked at him, tilting his head to the side. Then, he broke into a slow, almost patronising smile.
"You sweet little human. I've been around since pretty much the dawn of creation, Sam, fifty years is nothing."
"But what about Hella?" Sam scowled, not liking the belittling tone Gabriel had started using. "I mean, she's only…"
"She's been around since the late 700s, Sam." Gabriel smirked, enjoying Sam's befuddlement far too much. "Sixty years for her is like… a year or two, at most."
"Still, don't you worry?" Sam suddenly found himself taking Gabriel's off-hand nature very personally, as though Hella were his family, not the archangel's. "She's not exactly had an easy life, and it seems kind of like you left her to fend for herself."
"Hey, I don't like what you're implying." There was that flash of seriousness again. That anger and righteousness that set Gabriel apart from his trickster alter-ego, reminding Sam that he was treading on very thin ice. "I care more about my little girl than you seem to realise. Hell, where d'you think she got the ritual from?"
This threw Sam off course.
"Yeah." Gabriel seemed simultaneously triumphant and embarrassed. He turned away and stared out of the window some more. Sam turned further around in his seat, hanging his arm over the back.
"No, tell me. You can't leave it like that."
Gabriel looked like he was going to refuse, but seemed won over by Sam' s innate curiosity. Alright, so he was supposed to be arguing, but he was naturally intrigued by the possibility of hearing some sort of Norse myth back-stage gossip.
"When Hella was first banished to Hellheim, I visited her as often as I could. I hated to see her treated like that. I mean, don't get me wrong, the boys weren't treated any more fairly, but they were at least given their freedom. Told to go out into the mortal world and sort themselves out. They could handle that. But Hella? She was just a little kid, you know, and the way they treated her…"
He broke off, his jaw set, like he was reminding himself that it was only a memory. Sam was near hypnotised, finding it impossible to look away.
"They took her up to Asgard, looked at her arms and her legs, and started shrieking about what a monstrosity she was. An abomination. Can you imagine that? Big, powerful, terrifying gods, picking on a little girl, insulting her right to her face. Then they banished her to live in the endless dining hall, and take care of those who died old or sick. Forever. I mean what the fuck is that?"
Spots of heat blossomed on Gabriel's face as he got caught up in the memory again. He sighed, running a hand through his hair as he screwed his eyes shut. Sam felt his heart ache in sympathy. He knew what it was like to be an outcast.
"So I visited her as often as I could. And I used to tell her a story… See, Hellheim is… It's a dining hall, which stretches on for hundreds of thousands of miles lengthways. It's only a thousand miles in width, but that's still a journey. So I used to tell her, if she needed me, if things got so bad and she needed me, but I couldn't be there for her, I told her to walk the width of the hall, or until she felt better. She was supposed to start on the left side of the hall, and walk. I knew that I'd have to be dead before I'd let her suffer enough to reach the other side."
"I don't get it. Where does the ritual come into it?"
Gabriel huffed a bitter sort of laugh, before looking up and meeting Sam's eyes.
"It was painted on the right-hand wall."
They stared at each other for a moment. Sam wasn't sure whether he couldn't take his eyes off Gabriel's or if he just didn't want to. Gabriel smiled, awkwardly, his eyes shining with a sort of humble embarrassment.
"I told you once before, Sammy. Don't presume to know what I am."
And with that, he disappeared, leaving Sam seven different kinds of confused. He didn't have time to question it, though, as Dean chose that moment to throw open the driver's door and start up the engine.
"She's in. She's going to see what she can find out, and then she'll phone us tonight. Until then, we can… dude, are you ok?"
"Huh? Uh, yeah." Sam shook himself. Dean smirked.
"You look like a thirteen year old caught perving on the teacher. What happened?"
"Nothing!" Sam didn't like the girlish note of protest in his voice, so he tried again. "Nothing. I fell asleep, I had a weird dream."
Dean said nothing, but continued to smirk all the way back to Bobby's. Sam couldn't be bothered to respond, putting more effort in trying to not think about Gabriel.
He was still here.
The pain twisted and boiled, in and around him, there was no way of telling when he ended and the pain began, he could feel the pain, he could only feel the pain, it crashed, it bashed, it clawed, it pulled, it cut, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt-
"Oh, Sammy. Here we are again."
Gone. Nothing now. Just light. Light, and the dull, retreating ache as the pain slowly faded away.
"That's right, Sam. You know, I really shouldn't keep doing this. It's probably jumping in on your dreams that's slowing down my recovery."
Light. Not pain.
"That's me, Sam. What's the problem?"
The noise was strange. It wasn't like the noises They made. They made noises that were scary and painful. This was… it was like… what was it like? He used to know the words. Now he didn't. He didn't know. It filled him with a new pain. A different pain. Pain like all his insides were trying to get out, like he was… what was the word? Word…
"It's ok, it's ok, Sam. Sam, listen. Don't worry. You don't have to use your words."
The light was holding him. It had done it before. When it held him, some of the pain went away. Some of his thoughts came back.
"It's ok, Sam. Just relax, I can pick up on whatever you need to…"
The light stopped making noise, and Sam felt the horrible lurch pain again. It made some of his thoughts go away again.
"Say that again, Sammy?"
Light stay. Not-pain stay.
The light didn't make any more noise, but it held him tighter. Some of the lurch-pain went away, and Sam remembered the word. It fell into his brain like a raindrop, triggering off a ripple of memories.
"Don't blame you, Sam. They scare me too, in real life. But this isn't real; you know that, don't you?"
"That's right, Sammy. Dream. Not real. They can't hurt you, not any more, so don't let it get to you."
The light felt… the word was there, so close in his mind that he could almost grasp it. What did it make him feel?
"Sammy! Sam! Move your ass!"
Sam woke with a start, his shin throbbing as he regained his bearings. He was on the couch in Bobby's sitting room. Dean had just kicked him in the leg to wake him up. Gabriel was sat in a chair on the opposite side of the room, resolutely not staring at him. Had he been…?
"Hella just called. Said she's seen the ghost. It matches the profile we came up with earlier, so we just have to salt'n'burn. Let's go."
Dean was already half way to the door. Sam cleared his throat and stumbled to his feet.
Gabriel looked up at him, his expression unreadable. Sam pushed his confusion aside.
"Are you up to zapping us out there?"
Gabriel grinned, which was only encouraged by Dean's protests.
"Hell no. I am not trusting that trickster to…"
"Dean. The sooner we get there, the sooner we get Hella out of danger. Quit being a pussy and take it."
Gabriel snorted a laugh at this, standing up as he did so and holding his hands out. Dean scowled at Sam, before reluctantly trudging over to stand beside him.
"You're a cranky son of a bitch when you're sleep deprived, you know that?"
Gabriel reached up and tapped them both on the forehead. Sam could have sworn, in that brief moment, he saw Gabriel wink at him.