The journey back to Bobby's could have been easier. It could not have been made at all; it wasn't like they'd ever needed a base of operations before, but somehow Sam and Dean both felt the need to return, to stay as a unit. The thought of trekking across America once more to hunt monsters seemed kind of bleak in comparison, and while Sam doubted he would object to hunting every now and then, he had a feeling that putting the family business on hold for a while would probably do everyone some good. Bobby didn't seem to mind the company, either.
With Dean driving, and Sam in the passenger seat, Gabriel and Hella appeared quietly in the back.
"Where'd you get to?" It worried Dean how easily he accepted angels (or archangels or demi-angels or whatever Hella was) appearing in his car now.
"Had a fight." Hella sniffed. "We made up. Would have been back sooner, but we got… ice cream."
The pause was barely there. Dean certainly didn't spot it, but Sam did. He also spotted the way Gabriel's features tensed and relaxed in that split second. Something had happened, but neither of them would talk about it.
"What, you didn't think to bring any back?" Dean sighed. "Friggin' angels, man, I'm telling you."
"See?" Hella turned to her dad. "You don't tell him off for swearing, and I'm way older than he is."
"It's different." Gabriel shrugged. "You think I care about his public image?"
And so it went, talking, bickering, arguing, stony silence, then talking again, all the way back to Bobby's.
"All I'm saying is, it'd be good to at least discuss some sort of a plan." Dean repeated himself, as he had said the exact same thing on the last cycle, but Sam didn't point it out. Gabriel seemed to have a far bigger phrasebook than Dean.
"Why are you so intent on being kept in the loop? I've told you before, when I know something, you'll know something."
Dean turned to give Gabriel a quick glare. They were on a long, flat, clear stretch of highway, so he could afford a few seconds of angry scowling.
"Are you really surprised I don't trust you? Surely you should be more surprised Sam does."
"Trust is not a relevant issue here… and don't..."
"You say 'don't call me Shirley', and so help me I will deep fry you in holy oil."
"Dean, can you slow down?"
"Don't tell me how to drive, Hella."
"Don't yell at her! It's not her fault you've got trust issues."
"I thought 'trust wasn't a relevant issue', smart-ass. You know, for a trickster, you're a shit liar, you know that?"
Suddenly, a wall of flame erupted on the road, not three feet in front of them, causing Dean to slam on the breaks and punch the car into reverse.
"It's holy fire…"
Dean looked over his shoulder and, between Gabriel and Hella (who were both looking a little queasy), he could see the fire racing around to meet at the other side of the circle. It was too late. They were already trapped. He stopped the car.
"If I drove straight through the fire, what are the odds you two would be ok?"
"Slim. Well… as you've seen, Hella can hop through and not get too messed up, but me…"
Sam looked around, feeling somewhat stupid for getting caught in such a simple way, when he saw a black figure standing just on the other side of the flames.
"Guys?" He pointed towards the figure and, seeing that they were trapped within the circle but not within the car, they stepped out.
The flames began to die down a little, and through the fast rising smoke they could see the organiser of the ambush. Dean had just about had enough of this bullshit.
"Is there a problem, officer?"
"Problem? No." Crowley was his usual arrogant self, grinning at them like a shark during tourist season. Hella moved closer to Gabriel, and he wrapped an arm around her, not once taking his eyes away from the demon.
"I mean…" Crowley continued, pacing around the edge of the circle, "I'm more than a little pissed off at my treatment, if only for the fact that I'd have expected something more imaginative than just being bumped back to Hell."
He glared at Gabriel, who glared right back. Something about the archangel being so quiet and still made him seem… mightier. And more than a little bit scary. And Sam began to be very grateful he was on their side.
"What do you want?" Sam said, if only to take his attention away from Gabriel (seriously, it was like he could feel waves of angel mojo or grace or something, making him glance over his shoulder all the time). Crowley held his arms open, his predatory smile firmly in place.
"I want to talk. Discuss something of a business merger I think you'll all find very… attractive."
He reached into his pocket, and produced a white handkerchief, liberally stained and splattered with blood.
"Guess who's this is?"
Hella gasped, and hugged herself closer to her father. Sam was unhappily reminded of Kali, and judging by the way his face suddenly went pale, Gabriel was too.
"Please." Crowley sniffed, tucking the handkerchief back into his pocket. "You think I'd just let the most powerful piece on the board be taken so freely? You boys should start playing chess; it might stop you from lumbering into rather obvious and avoidable traps."
"So, what, you're using blood magic?" Sam tried to sound like he was calm and controlled, and he really hoped he was properly masking his inner monologue. His inner monologue was currently running 'ohshitohshitohshitohshit' on stadium speakers all through his brain. Dean, for his part, seemed unusually quiet. His only movement was an odd twitching of his toe, swivelling side to side in the dust.
"The only reason our dear little miss over there has been running around has been because I've let her. But now, I think we've all had enough play, haven't we? Gabriel?"
Crowley stared dead at Gabriel, his mouth twisting into a condescending smirk.
"You know, I'm really starting to despise you." Gabriel had on his arrogant bravado, but there was fear in his eyes.
"Yes, well, take a number, it's a long line. Hey, and while you're waiting, why don't you tell everyone what we both…" Whatever it was Crowley was about to say, it went unfinished. Dean turned to the flames and, with a short, sharp kick, sent the small pile of dirt he had been accumulating over the fire. It created a small, but noticeable gap.
Seeing immediately what Dean had done, Gabriel had extinguished the flames and sent Crowley flying twenty feet backwards in one puff of wind.
"Boys." He shot them both a wink. "Cover your eyes." He walked quickly over to Crowley, and Sam just brought his hands over his eyes in time to blot out Gabriel grabbing Crowley by the throat and summoning a ray of blinding white light. When he opened his eyes, Crowley was gone. Not dead, because Crowley was cockroach-like in that manner, but gone.
Gabriel stood tall; his shoulders back and chin out, his shadow stretching along the ground behind him. Sam gaped as his shadow stretched, growing smooth black wings that spread out along the ground. Dean was already in the car again. Hella was smiling at her Dad's back with more than just relief. There was pure joy there, and pride.
Gabriel turned and walked back towards them, and got quietly in the car.
They all sat, for a moment, Dean looking far too angry to drive. He opened his mouth, clearly ready to turn and give Gabriel a piece of his mind, but Gabriel stopped him.
"Yes, I will explain. Everything. But for now, I have the handkerchief containing Hella's blood. You are both tired and hungry. I suggest we continue back to Bobby's, you guys rest up, and I'll explain everything tomorrow."
"Yes." The tone was not to be argued with. Once again, Sam felt the waves of Gabriel's strength washing over him, and he had to fight the urge to sink down in his seat like a child being punished. Dean seemed to get the gist, as he started the car without further argument. For the rest of the ride home, he said nothing.
By the time they got to Bobby's house, both Winchesters were starving. Gabriel and Hella disappeared, Gabriel suddenly intent that he was well enough to go and visit Fenrir. Dean finished his food quickly and retreated upstairs. Within a few moments, the familiar sounds of a Led Zeppelin album trickled down to them.
"Christ." Bobby stopped eating, and stared in the vague direction of the noise. "I thought he'd gotten better."
"Relapse?" Sam shrugged. "Maybe seeing Gabriel go all angel-fu on Crowley… I dunno, maybe it reminded him of Castiel?"
"Maybe." Bobby started eating again. Sam cleared his throat, not sure how to broach the next topic with the elder hunter.
"You know… Gabriel said, last night… you know how Cas and Dean have that 'profound bond' thing?" Bobby grunted an affirmative. Sam cleared his throat again. "Gabriel…" He forced a laugh, in an extremely failed attempt to be casual.
"'Gabriel' what, Sam?"
"Gabriel said that, uh… maybe that's why Dean's acting so upset, you know, because they were bonded."
"Yeah, no shit, Sherlock." Bobby shook his head and continued eating. Sam continued to be gut-twistingly awkward.
"He, uh… He said that the whole bonding thing meant that, up until now, Dean might never have noticed that he's… uh, he might be… in love with Castiel?"
Bobby froze. He stared at Sam. He pushed his plate away.
"Aw, now, why would you want to say a thing like that when I'm eating?"
"Well, I just wanted to know what you thought…"
"It's damn obvious what's going on between them two, but that don't mean I want to think about it." Bobby shook his head, before catching Sam's flustered expression and staring at him. "You didn't know?"
"Well I hadn't…"
"Oh, you really are self-involved, aren't you?" Bobby shook his head, and pulled his plate back in front of him. "I swear, Sam. You're a good kid, and you're clever, but a lot of the time, you ain't too smart. Your problem is you spend too much time wrapped up in thinking about stuff, and not enough time actually observing and reacting." He started eating again, shaking his head and chuckling at Sam.
Bobby had figured out Dean and Cas years ago, shortly after Jo and Ellen had died. Sam felt like the slowest kid in class, and now he'd had it pointed out to him, he realised how obvious it was.
He wandered the perimeter of the auto-yard, shotgun glinting in the dwindling light, tasked with checking all the seals and sigils were still intact. It was just him and his thoughts, which was not particularly pleasant.
Stupid angels. Stupid brother and his stupid angel-sexuality.
That was something he wondered about. The fact that Gabriel had a term for it implied it happened quite often but… for some reason, the information that angels were genderless in their true form had led him to believe they were asexual. Apparently not.
He knew about the Nephilim, although there was little in the way of cold hard facts. 'Sons of God' had children with 'Daughters of man', which may or may not have been giants. Well, he knew now that angels could have children, or at least archangels could. He knew angels were just as susceptible and fallible as humans, if they got free of holy brainwashing.
So it seemed logical that angels could lust just like humans.
"It's not lust if angels do it."
Sam jumped as Gabriel appeared next to him.
"We don't yearn for the physical sensation but for the connection of soul and grace. It's all much more tantric."
Sam glared at Gabriel.
"Don't read my thoughts."
"Sorry." He shrugged, not looking in the least bit sorry. "It's not really something I can switch off. Besides, it's fun. Keep you company?"
"If I say no, will that stop you?"
"Hey, you're learning!"
Sam ignored the angel's sarcasm, and started walking. Gabriel followed easily.
"He's good. His kids are all healthy and bright… but the mother…"
"You didn't get on?"
"She's a bitch."
Sam thought for a moment, before shaking his head. Gabriel shrugged, and produced a chocolate bar from somewhere.
"Yeah, Hella didn't like that one either. Screw you guys, I think I'm hilarious."
"Someone has to."
Gabriel laughed at this, seemingly surprised. He walked close to Sam, his shoulder bumping the other man's arm. Oddly, Sam barely even registered it.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to tell everyone the only course of action we have, in regards to the whole Castiel scenario… I've thought. I've thought and thought, I've looked at it from every angle, and it's the only option we have. I don't think anyone's going to like it."
"You've got a good brain on you. Thought you might have a few words to the unwise."
Sam blinked, feeling kind of flattered he was being asked for his opinions by an archangel.
"Uh… well, I know Dean wants Cas back. More than anything."
"That's not what I mean." Gabriel shook his head. "Imagine… Imagine you're in my place. What would you be most worried about?"
Sam didn't know why he had expected a conversation with Gabriel to be easy.
"Uh… I guess, taking Castiel on? Going back to Heaven? Disappointing everyone?"
"I'd still do it, though. I mean, I've been in that situation. "Our last hope" kind of thing. I suppose the difference was, I put myself there, and you're not really choosing."
Gabriel nodded, but was silent. Sam stopped, his breath inexplicably tight in his chest as he rested a hand on Gabriel's shoulder.
"Hey, uh… don't take this the wrong way but…" Sam's eyes met Gabriel's, but couldn't hold their contact for more than a brief moment at a time. "You've kind of got a rep for running away, for tricking your way out of problems. That's what Dean and Bobby know you for, and I guess Hella can see that in you too. But… The last thing you said before you died was that you were on our side, and I believe you. It's tough when everyone's expecting you to mess up, believe me, I know. It's so easy to just give in and prove them right. But…"
He shrugged, looking away.
"I believe in you, I guess."
Gabriel stared at him for a long, silent moment. Eventually, Sam looked back at the angel, hoping he hadn't offended.
Gabriel was smiling. It was a bright, genuine smile which seemed so out of place on the ex-trickster's face. Out of place, but not unwelcome.
"Thanks, Sammy. You know, I'll never understand it. Here you are, with a history and a reputation that had you painted as demon spawn, and yet you've got the kindest, most believing heart… and then you've got your brother, who's all loyalty and righteousness, but he's a total pessimist. It's like an old Chinese fable or something."
Sam laughed, and smiled at Gabriel once more.
"I was wrong about you. You're not like Lucifer. Not in the slightest." Gabriel's eyes were soft and warm, and now Sam had worked up the courage to hold his gaze, he found himself sinking deeper, getting more comfortable. This, he thought, must be what it feels like to go in one of those hot springs in Greenland, where the water is really warm even though there's snow and cold wind all around it. Gabriel smiled, and Sam quietly marvelled at the way his eyes sparkled gold.
"If I'm honest, I never really thought you were. I just said that to piss off your brother."
Sam laughed, closing his eyes for a second. That second broke the spell, and he found he could look away again.
He also found that his hand was still on the archangel's shoulder. With a sudden, uncomfortable start, he backed off.
Gabriel noted the switch in tone, taking in Sam's suddenly uncomfortable movements with a raised eyebrow, but said nothing.
"Anyway, me and Hella are going to watch a movie, if you want to join us."
"What are you watching?"
"Thor." Gabriel grinned. "We want to see how much Marvel raped our culture."
"There's something sick and wrong about that."
Gabriel shrugged, making Sam laugh again.
"I should probably finish checking the perimeter first…"
Gabriel just snorted.
"Bet you five bucks I can check the perimeter, get back in and make popcorn before you could make it from here to the couch."
"On your marks…"
"Gabriel, I'm not racing…"
"This is ridiculous."
"G…" Gabriel vanished before he could even finish speaking, leaving Sam to make the mad dash back to the house. They both fell onto the couch at exactly the same time, although Gabriel blustered something about letting him win.