It had been a surprisingly long time since Sam had dug up a grave. He stood with the torch while Dean took a turn at shovelling.
"So." Dean glanced up at him, between hefts. "You reckon he's for real?"
Sam raised an eyebrow. He didn't need to ask who Dean was talking about.
"You don't trust him?"
"You do?" Dean snorted, stopping his shovelling to stare up at Sam. "The shit he put us through, I'm surprised we're still intact."
"But he apologised for that. Maybe he's… I dunno, he's starting over."
"Seriously?" Dean shook his head, before resuming digging.
"Just… dude, you trust too easy."
"No I don't." Sam was bitch-facing. "I just think that the guy's been brought back to life by his estranged daughter. If there was more of a cue for turning over a new leaf, I can't think of one."
Dean shook his head, clearly wanting to make a comment about Sam's girly chick-flick bleeding heart, but he said nothing. Sam sighed.
"Do you think angels have an afterlife?"
Dean glanced up at him.
"I've never really thought about it."
"Seriously? I mean, do they have like a… retirement home in Heaven or something? Do angels go to Hell?"
"Lucifer did." Dean muttered, pulling himself out of the grave. "Your turn, Samantha."
Sam shot him another bitch-face, but grabbed the shovel and climbed down into the grave.
Dean laughed to himself for a moment, both quiet and content in the knowledge that no matter how much shit they went through alone or as a pair, Dean's childish teasing would never stop being amusing. For a while, the only sounds were the chuck-chuckking of Sam shovelling earth.
"You ok?" Dean leant against the tombstone, wearing his awkward, "emotional constipation is manly and I'll kill anyone who says otherwise" face.
"Shouldn't I be?"
"You know… the whole… remembering Hell thing?"
"Mostly. I don't really remember much. Flashbacks, occasionally."
"Dreams?" Dean scrutinised him. Sam shrugged.
"Maybe. I wake up feeling tired and I can't remember dreaming anything. You tell me."
Dean shrugged. Waggling the torch at the dirt.
With the remains salted and burned, Sam phoned Bobby.
"Want to see if I can get sugar-puff here to spirit you home?"
Sam could hear Gabriel protesting in the background.
"You cover my house in candy, you'll put up with whatever I have to say about you, idjit."
Sam fought back laughter as he imagined Gabriel's affronted face.
"Alright, we're just outside of the graveyard."
There was a short moment, long enough for Sam to hang up the phone and tuck it into his pocket, when Gabriel appeared in front of them, with Hella and the Impala, looking faintly queasy.
"I thought you were taking us back to Bobby's?" Dean looked unimpressed. Gabriel shot him a look usually reserved for levelling cities.
"Me to you, us to Hella, all to Bobbys. Three trips. Me to Hella, Us to you. Two trips. And before you try to get smart, I was not leaving my daughter in a sorority house overnight, haunted or not."
"Dad." Hella rolled her eyes, in the manner of resentful embarrassment that almost made Sam forget she wasn't a teenager.
"No talking. Now, if you don't mind…" Gabriel staggered over to the graveyard fence, supporting himself against it as he seemed to fight back the urge to vomit. Dean shrugged, unlocking the Impala.
"Motel." Sam agreed, as Dean and Hella climbed into the car. Sam looked at Gabriel once more.
He seemed to have steadied himself now, although he still looked short of breath.
"I'll live." Gabriel shot him a smug grin, as he straightened up. "All flights postponed 'til further notice, unfortunately."
"We can make do. You ok to be in the car?"
"Yeah… although I would love to see your brother's face if I puked on the upholstery."
Sam shook his head, wondering if Dean hadn't been partly right earlier on.
They had booked in at the nearest motel, getting one room for Sam and Dean and one for Hella and Gabriel. Not that either of the latter needed to sleep, really, but in Gabriel's weakened state, he did appreciate being well rested.
They had gotten into their rooms, Gabriel still looking slightly winded, and Dean had immediately asked Gabriel how long it would be until he was recovered. Gabriel had taken more than a little offence.
"I'll be recovered when I'm recovered. I'm sorry if it's cutting in on your hospitality, but it's not ideal for me either."
Hella had hovered uncertainly by the door, glancing at Sam. Sam gave her a reassuring smile, trying to convey without words that Dean was just being pissy.
"Look, every day you're here recovering is a day Castiel's further gone. You haven't even started to talk about plans yet, and…"
"Tell me something I don't know, you luddite! You think I'm not worried about my kid brother going postal?" Gabriel had paused, shocked by his outburst, and sunk heavily into a chair. "Alright… there may have been some facts I… omitted. To save you from worrying."
"Gabriel?" Sam stood up straight at this point. He had been inclined to let Dean vent at him before, because he knew the archangel could take it, but Gabriel was looking very tired now. And Dean was slowly turning red in the face.
"Look, I'm… you remember how Castiel was so weak after he got cut off from the host? The force was weak with him and all that?"
Sam nodded, keeping one eye on Dean.
"Well… now it's not so much a case of being cut off from the host as there not being one."
"What?" Dean's voice was menacingly quiet. Sam was getting ready to restrain his brother, if needs be.
"There. Isn't. A host." Gabriel repeated, glaring at him as though Dean was the most insensitive idiot he'd ever seen. "There's only Castiel and the angels he hasn't killed yet. Most of whom have never been to Earth, and all of whom are getting weaker and fewer every day.
"So you're just waiting for him to kill his way through all of them, is that it?"
Gabriel glared at Dean with a fury Sam had never seen before. More than when the archangel had faced off Lucifer, more than when he'd given them the speech about playing their roles. For a moment, Sam got the impression that Gabriel's true form was shining through his eyes, enraged and powerful.
"Don't take it out on me, child."
The words hit Dean hard. Glaring at Gabriel, he grabbed his jacket and slammed the door behind him, muttering angrily.
As soon as the door closed, Gabriel seemed to slump with relief. Hella hurried to rest her hand on his shoulder.
"Hey... don't worry about Dean." Sam shrugged, awkwardly. "He's just… he misses Cas."
Gabriel laughed bitterly, patting Hella's hand as he stood up.
"Missing… yeah, that's one word for it."
Gabriel rolled his eyes, stretching as if he'd just woken up. Hella smiled at him, and excused herself to the bathroom.
"What do you mean?"
Gabriel laughed, looking incredulously at Sam.
"Seriously? Are you really that blind?"
Sam blinked, confused. Gabriel seemed to take that as an answer in the affirmative.
"Castiel is bonded to Dean. Ever since they first met, they have always been bonded to each other. But now, with Castiel turning his back on all that is good and sane, that bond had been severed, making Dean aware of it. `You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone`, I believe."
"So what, he's only just realised how important Castiel was?"
Gabriel raised an eyebrow at Sam, making him feel like he was the slowest kid in the class.
"Sammy… Dean's entire soul is tainted with heartbreak. He feels more strongly about Castiel shunning him than he did when Lisa left him. To him, this is about on par with you dying."
"Your brother loves Castiel, Sam. Loves him in a way that is boundless and limitless, which doesn't fit in with his limited human mind. That's why he's pining so much. It's because he's lost a lover he never knew he had."
"Oh." Sam finished, unsure of what to say. Then, as the words formed images in his mind, he tried again.
"Oh, ew! Why would you tell me that? I mean, Dean's… he's not…"
"The gender of Castiel's vessel is irrelevant. What can I say, God loves love." Gabriel stared at the table for a moment, and slowly, two bottles of corona materialised. Eventually, they were solidly manifested, and Gabriel held one out to Sam. Sam wasn't going to refuse.
"But what about the whole "thou shalt not lie with man" thing?"
Gabriel rolled his eyes, shrugging.
"Damn editorials. The bible as you know it is probably ten percent accurate to what the original messages were."
"Well… I guess if someone would know…" Sam drank from his beer, sitting at the kitchenette table. "Good beer."
"Thanks. I try."
"Does Dean know he feels like that? That he's… angel-sexual?"
"He's totally confused. He'll figure it out, eventually."
From the bathroom, they could hear the rattling of pipes as the shower was turned on. Sam, realising they weren't going to be interrupted, decided it was as good a time as any to ask Gabriel something that had been nagging at him since earlier.
"Hey, uh… weird question." He looked up, making sure he had Gabriel's attention. "Have you been… did you go into my dreams?"
Gabriel started, before flashing a guilty grin at Sam.
"It seemed like the best option. Sorry."
"Can you… you really can't remember, can you?" Gabriel looked deep in thought for a moment, before nodding, and slipping into the chair opposite Sam. "Sounds about right. You're dreaming about Hell. Trying to process all those repressed memories via the subconscious."
"Yeah… it's why I had to jump in, I couldn't sit by and feel your suffering in silence." He looked honestly abashed. "If it bugs you, I won't do it any more, but…"
Sam wasn't listening. He was straining his memory, trying to think if he could recall any of hi time in the pit.
He remembered saying yes.
He remembered throwing himself in.
"No light." Sam mumbled, his beer forgotten on the table. "It was… I wasn't there, physically, but… it was like I was in a coma, I didn't have any body, it was just my mind… pain." Memories trickled in slowly, as he tried to wrap his brain around the concept of a place without place, of a life without time, of physical pain to a mental form…
It shot through him like a spasm, as the trickle turned into a flood. Every muscle tensed, dealing with cuts that had long since scarred over but never really formed. His heart was tearing free of his chest as his brain twisted around itself, trying to hold back the flood. Tears sprang to his eyes and screams caught in his throat. His hands fisted in his hair, digging and scratching at his skull.
Gabriel was at his side in an instant, resting calming hands on his face and shoulders.
"Sam. Sammy. Look at me. It's not here. It's not happening."
Sam gasped through the spasms of pain, feeling phantom pain pass through him like electricity.
"Sam. They can't hurt you any more. Trust me, ok? You have to trust me Sam. I know you've been hurt, I know you've had to deal with shit, but trust me… they're not here. They can't hurt you. They're not here. Close your eyes."
And, with great effort, Sam managed to hear and understand what Gabriel was saying. Shaking, he gripped Gabriel's shoulder as he screwed his eyes shut, every muscle shaking with extreme, excruciating, unending pain.
It was then that he felt it. Waves of warmth and light gently soothing, stroking, working their way through every cell in his body and slowly quieting the pain. It was so far beyond anything Sam had ever experienced, the only similarities he could draw didn't seem to make sense. It was like a sunlit pool, a toasted marshmallow, the colour gold and someone kissing the back of your neck, but it wasn't. It was a new car, it was watching rain evaporate, it was finding out how toffee is made, but it wasn't. All of these things, and more, and yet none of them… it surged through his body, quieting, soothing, until only one dull knot of pain remained, somewhere that Sam couldn't place. It wasn't a part of him, but it was with him, around him. A sort of shadow, maybe.
"I can't take it all away, Sam." Gabriel's voice was quiet, as the light faded away slowly. As it went, Sam opened his eyes. "It needs to stay there; you need to have it with you. It's a sucky badge of honour, but one you need."
As Sam's mind slowly returned to his body, he felt Gabriel's hands resting on his shoulders, and found it oddly comfortable.
"I can't make it go away, but I can make it better." He smiled wearily, before slowly taking his hands away. "That's… that's all I can do."
"Thank you." Sam managed to croak, the world still spinning slightly.
"Don't mention it. But boy am I glad we've got the rest of the night to recover."
So saying, Gabriel smiled and swigged his beer. He stretched again, muttering something about needing to rest up.
Sam just decided to sit very still until the world started making a little more sense.