Sam had never seen a movie so thoroughly torn to shreds before. At one point, Bobby had given up and mentioned something about coaxing Dean out of his hermit cave with the promise of a bar, which left Sam at the mercy of Gabriel and Hella's running commentary. Sam's favourite lines included, but weren't limited to:
"That is so not what Frost Giants look like. If they looked like that, I never would have gotten hot and heavy… uh… not that… I didn't love your mother on a… deep, spiritual level."
"Wait, is that guy supposed to be you? But he's tall… and vaguely attractive."
"Ok, Thor's not the sharpest knife in the block, but they could have credited him with some intelligence."
"Hey, douchebag! Stop listening to the Trickster!"
And, Sam's personal favourite:
"Oh wow… my name is now forever linked with two guys wrestling on a rainbow bridge… I feel dirty."
Sam was wiping away tears of laughter from his eyes as the credits rolled. Gabriel checked his watch, and stretched.
"Wow, it's late. Thems what needs sleep should probably see to getting it."
Hella stifled a yawn, hugged her father, said goodnight to Sam and wandered off to her makeshift room. Sam thought he should probably do the same.
"See you tomorrow, Gabriel." Sam stretched, and froze midway through as he realised Gabriel was watching him. When he caught Gabriel's eye, the archangel smiled.
Feeling sufficiently weirded out to last at least a month, Sam went to bed.
Three hours later, he gave up trying to sleep. He had managed to doze for about ten minutes at a time, but not much else. Yawning, he shoved the covers aside and went downstairs in the vague hope that a glass of water would cure his insomnia. He heard a noise from the library, and was suddenly tense and alert, the fog of sleepiness overridden by ingrained hunter instinct. He continued down the stairs quietly, ears straining to hear any further sound. As he got closer, he realised what he was hearing was a conversation, quiet and oddly muffled.
He edged around the library door to see Gabriel sat on one of the couches by the window, with three ghostly figures on the floor in front of the desk. They were ignoring him, but he watched them with a great sadness in his eyes. A half empty bottle of beer in one hand, the other pressed to his lips, Gabriel looked so sad, so lonely. Sam remembered the look the archangel had given him when they trapped him in holy fire. Weak, desperate, betrayed… all tied together with an overwhelming sense of tired exasperation.
Who wants to live forever?
"You can give up the sneaky act, Sam, I heard you start downstairs."
"What?" Sam forced a laugh, in a vague attempt to brighten the situation. It was so unusual to see Gabriel so serious, so sombre, that he found it legitimately unsettling. He was fully prepared to be at the fate of the ex-Trickster's warped imagination if it meant he'd be on more familiar ground. "No stripper poles? No cream pies?"
Gabriel glanced away from the three ghostly figures, sparing Sam the briefest, most pitiful of looks, before resuming watching them. Sam balked slightly, his discomfort growing. He looked down at the ghostly figures and, for the first time, realised what he must be looking at.
"Hey, are those… Is that Hella?"
"Memories." Gabriel shrugged. "Illusions. It's a little easier on the mind to play them out in front of you. Staves off the crazy for a little while longer."
"She looks… how old was she?"
"About five." Gabriel flashed a warm, weak smile for a moment, watching as five year old Hella rough-housed with a young pup Fenrir who (although he looked very young) was already as big as she was. Jör, who looked slightly older, was in his human form, laughing with them. Gabriel sighed, as he watched Jör's body stretch and twist as the child morphed into what looked like a five foot long anaconda.
"Or the equivalent stage of development. She'd probably been alive for about a hundred years. You lose track of time, being an immortal deity."
Gabriel looked up at Sam, his eyes shining with a sort of nostalgic, bright sadness.
"This was before they got taken from us. Before the Valkyries came for them."
Realisation hit Sam with a heavy slap.
"So that's why Hella hates them so much?"
Boy did he feel like a dick.
Gabriel's lips twitched into a half smile.
"You should be asleep, Sam."
"I can't sleep." He shrugged it off, moving further into the room. "And besides, you look like you need company."
Gabriel huffed a bitter sounding laugh, before swigging at his beer. Sam was beginning to get quite worried now; He'd never known Gabriel to be so still and serious. He edged around the ghostly apparitions, and sat down next to the archangel, laying an awkward hand on his shoulder.
"Is this… is this about tomorrow?"
"I'm not talking about it. Go to sleep."
"Just… maybe it would help if you talked…"
"Sam, either go to sleep or I will put you to sleep. All the things I have to deal with right now, I don't need you on my conscience as well."
He stood and stalked off, walking straight through the illusions and causing them to instantly dissipate. Sam stood up, intent on following, but Gabriel disappeared, leaving Sam to scowl unhappily at the empty hallway. Why, or scratch that, how did he manage to surround himself with people who refused to give a straight answer about their own feelings?
Scratching his head, Sam got himself a drink of water and wandered back to bed, despising their group mentality.
They sat around the kitchen table in silence, Hella closest to the door, Dean next to her, and Bobby on the other side. Sam was stood leaning against the counter. When Gabriel appeared in the kitchen, it was obvious they'd been waiting for him.
"So?" Dean hadn't eaten. He had been too set on finally hearing this plan of Gabriel's. Hella had made herself some cereal, and Bobby and Sam had each attempted coffee and toast, but not gotten far. Anticipation was high.
Gabriel opened his mouth for a moment, looking like he was going to make a smart remark, before his eyes slid from Dean to Hella. He sighed, looking only slightly less weary than he had the night before.
"Ok…" He waved a hand, and the free chair at the kitchen table scraped itself across the floor to him. He sat down, leaning forward, with his elbows on his knees. "It's like this. Angels, as you all know, don't have a soul. They have their Grace, which is what connects them to each other and to Heaven… and their Self."
"Their Self?" Dean repeated, his patience already wearing thin.
"Their… personality, their mind… When angels fall, their Self and their Grace are separated. That's how you get fallen angels. It works the same way you had Sammy here wandering around without a soul all that time, although it's slightly different because there's a much more distinct line between Grace and Self than there is between soul and Self."
"Ok." Bobby nodded. "But what's this got to do with Cas?"
"I'm getting to it. You see, Castiel isn't God, not really. He's just the most powerful thing in creation."
"Oh yeah." Sam crossed his arms, watching Gabriel. "Just."
"It's not ideal, admittedly, but he's not God, which means he can be defeated."
"Yeah, you keep saying." Dean snapped, sounding about as rough as he looked. "How?"
"I can go up there, find Castiel, and…" Gabriel seemed very uncomfortable, and Sam got the feeling he really didn't want to be saying it at all. "I can tear his Self away from his Grace. That way, I can bring his Self down here, re-compose his favourite meat-suit and set him walking, while his Grace stays in Heaven and holds together all those monster souls."
"What happens to them?" Bobby was watching Gabriel like a hawk. Gabriel shrugged.
"Best case scenario, they lose their energy, dispel and eventually die. Worst case scenario… in a couple of centuries they might develop a tangible form or consciousness. They'll become a freaky new breed of monster, but one that will probably be mortal."
Hella was staring at Gabriel, an expression of curious confusion on her face.
"What's the catch?"
Gabriel shrugged, not meeting her eyes. This panicked her, and her voice rose as she repeated herself.
"You wouldn't have held off on telling us unless there was a problem, so what's the catch?"
Gabriel looked at the floor. Now everyone was catching Hella's panic.
"I… I can't do it on my own. But none of you can come with me." He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. "To have enough power to rip Castiel apart like that… I'd need to be stronger. I'd need to…" He looked at the floor again, before practically kicking his chair over as he stood up. He looked at Hella with an expression of utter self-loathing, begging forgiveness before the words had even left his mouth.
"I'd need to take Hella's Grace. If she survived it, she'd be weak, very weak, and the demons are still looking for her. So are the Valkyries, probably. I can't do it to her; I'm not doing it."
"Hey, now just wait." Dean stood too, his face set in anger. "Alright, so we all want Hella to be safe, but if there's a chance she could survive, then why not…"
"It's not just her. I could die, Dean. Hell, Castiel could die. Will, probably, die. Even if I can tear away the Self without killing it, even if I can drag it back down to Earth and settle it back in his old body, then what?" Gabriel glared at Dean, spots of red forming on his cheeks. "You think he's going to be happy like that? He coped so well with being cut off from the Host last time round, didn't he? And that was losing what little power he had then; imagine what this would do to him. Imagine how fucked up that would make him. Going from something that's damn near God, to being mortal? Human? I can't do it, Dean, I won't lose another brother, and I won't lose my daughter."
"We brought you back." Dean stood, facing Gabriel, their eyes locked. "We didn't ask whose side you were on, we didn't ask whether you'd be sticking around. We asked if you could bring Cas back, and you told us you could."
"Could." Gabriel snapped, staring out Dean with just as much rage. "Not will."
"You son of a bitch." Dean spat, shoving his chair back and looking like he was about to strangle Gabriel. "You cowardly chicken-shit, this is all…"
"Just stop it!" Hella shouted. The way Dean had been standing, he'd almost blocked her off from the rest of the room. Sam guiltily realised he'd almost forgotten she was there. She stood, fighting back tears as she shoved at Dean's arm, before running out into the back yard, her hands pressed to her face. Gabriel stared at Dean for a moment, before beginning to stalk past him, set on chasing after Hella.
"Woah." Sam grabbed his shoulder. "Maybe we should…"
Gabriel shrugged his hand away, turning an angry stare on him.
"Should what, Sam? Should wait for her to get picked off by demons? That's why they want her; they know I need her power to stand a snowball's chance of getting Castiel back. And they know she's my biggest weakness, ok? I'm not ready to lose her again."
"You don't get it, do you?" Sam made another grab at Gabriel's shoulder, staring from him to Dean. He kept his voice calm, even though the waves of anger and fear and power (oh dear God, the power) rolling off Gabriel were throwing everyone off course.
"It's not about either of you, or how you feel, or about Cas. It's about her, and her choice. She brought you back, and now she has to choose whether she's going to give you the power you need. So why don't the two of you just shut up and play nice. I'll go find her." He pushed into Gabriel, and to his surprise, the archangel stepped back, letting Sam go.
The back door slammed shut behind him, and he didn't hang around to hear whatever Bobby was about to say to reprimand Dean and Gabriel. He could already see Hella.
She was about twenty feet in front of him, leaning with her back against a rusted out Ford pickup. He was pressing her hands into her eyes, and as he got closer, he could hear her breathing, heavy and fractured as she held back tears.
"It's… not… f-fair." She gasped, still struggling to hold back sobs. "I… c-can't… why me? Why… Why c-can't it just… work?"
Sam Winchester faced monsters on a daily basis.
Sam Winchester had stared down the devil and come back from the dead.
Sam Winchester had no clue how to deal with crying girls.
"Look, it's… hey, don't… Uh… do you want a…" He rested his hand on her shoulder awkwardly, and she practically tumbled into his arms in her desperate need of a hug. Not for the first time, he really wished Ellen or Jo were still around. Heck, even Pamela. Just a female influence would be very helpful in times like these.
Her hands clenched in his sleeves as he wrapped his arms around her, trying not to be hysterically awkward as she cried into his chest.
"I just wanted him back, and I thought he'd help Castiel as a favour to you guys for looking after me, and I had it all planned out and it's not fair!" She drew a long, shuddering breath, her fingers twisting in the sleeves of Sam's shirt. "And now if I don't… if I don't die then… then he… or Castiel… and I don't know what's going on, I'm just the… I should have stayed in Hellheim, I… Jeg kan ikke miste ham igjen, kan jeg ikke være alene igjen, jeg bare ønsket alle å være lykkelig."
"Hella… whoa, Hella, I can't speak Norwegian." Sam pressed his hand to her head, concern lacing his features. Hella gazed up at him with tearstained eyes. Her voice was little more than a whisper.
"I don't want to be alone again."
Sam sighed, stepping away from the hug.
"Look, Hella… I know how much you love your Dad. And… well, I was pretty sure I'd killed him like… three times before he actually died. And now he's still alive. So if there's one person who'll make it out of this ok, it's Gabriel." He smiled; relieved to see she was smiling too. It was a small, tear-soaked smile, but it was there. "He's had to deal with a lot since he got back, and I think he's still coping with finding out that so many other angels are dead. I think he's… a lot more upset than he's letting on. But if he does this knowing he's got to keep you alive, then I think he'll have all the motivation he needs to do it right."
He shrugged, leaning against the pickup with her.
"I'm not saying you should do it. I'm not saying you shouldn't. I mean, believe me, I know how it feels to be the freak who suddenly has to make the important decisions. But… you're smart. And you're kind, and trusting. And don't ever tell him I said this, but your Dad is a good guy. I wouldn't let him risk his ass if I didn't think there was a chance he could pull it off."
Hella nodded, biting her lips as she tried to wrap her mind around all the information she had been given.
"I just… I need more time to think. I'm going to walk around… I'll stay in the auto-yard, don't worry, I just…"
Sam nodded, giving her another quick hug.
"I'll make sure they don't come looking."
He turned back to face the house, and when he looked back, she had gone. He just hoped Dean and Gabriel had calmed down.