Author's note: To make up for the longer-than-usual absence of updates, have a longer-than-usual chapter! Now I am returned to the internets, updates will be occurring at the usual pace.
Sam and Dean drove in silence, only glancing up occasionally to remark on the sudden change in the weather. Where it had been cool and crisp, it was now humid and overcast, with dark clouds swarming overhead that threatened a powerful storm.
"You think it's because of…"
Dean was thinking too much about Castiel to press the point, and Sam was too busy trying not to think about a certain archangel. It was one night. That's all it had been, that's all it would be.
So why couldn't he stop feeling like someone had punched him in the lungs? His chest ached, his breathing wouldn't steady, and he had that horrible, winded sense of disconnection, or perhaps over-connection, where he found himself suddenly thrown into perspective. One tiny human, trying to hold on to something… someone, so much bigger, so much more powerful, so utterly "other"… He just had to make things difficult for himself, didn't he?
When they got to the motel, they found Hella curled under layers of blankets, shivering and unconscious. The rain had started to pour down, coupled with winds that threatened to tear the windows out of their frames.
No sense in driving back to Bobby's now.
They would stay here, tonight.
Hella slept for twenty four hours. Sam slept for three.
When he did sleep, he was plagued with visions, half memories and half dreams. The place without place he thought he had left behind, Gabriel being thrown down into the burning, boiling depths and Sam, nothing more than a spirit, powerless to stop the archangel's defeat. Sometimes, he thought he might be seeing through Gabriel's eyes; something burning and shimmering, like a comet, too bright and too vast for him to fully comprehend, crashing into every known point of existence. After waking up from that three times, Sam gave up on sleeping all together.
They took Hella back to Bobby's while she was still asleep the next morning, and Sam carried her carefully to her room. He set her on the bed and pulled the blanket around her, making sure she wasn't cold. As he brushed her hair out of her eyes, he saw a lot of her father in her. He stepped back, finding that the revelation made it that much harder to care for her, and yet made him feel like it was his duty. He didn't want to sit with her, to watch that pained expression ghost across her features, but he couldn't trust anyone else to do it, either.
When she woke, the dawn just spreading across the sky, his was the face she saw as he sat by the bed, weary and sad. She rested her hand on his.
"We haven't heard anything." Sam tried not to sound as pathetic as he felt, seeing Hella's eyes shine as she watched him.
"Then you should be happy." Hella smiled. "There's hope."
"Yeah." Sam sighed, patting her hand. He wanted to tell her that no matter what happened, she would be welcome to stay with him. Even without this 'whatever' he was feeling towards Gabriel, he had found himself caring quite deeply for Hella. He wanted to say it, but he couldn't.
Instead, he tried to smile at her as he asked "Want anything to eat?"
He helped her downstairs, and they sat in silence for a while, nerves on high alert. Every question Hella wanted to ask was warned against before she could say it. Sam didn't want to talk about it, not just yet, and he said as much in his tense shoulders, his cold eyes. After a while, they turned on the TV that Gabriel had left behind, watching some action movie. Neither of them was really paying attention.
As long as the TV was there, it meant Gabriel was still alive, somewhere.
"Boys." Bobby pocketed his cell phone, discomfort on his face. "We're going to have to go help some people. I've been getting calls from just about every hunter I know asking if I'm in the area to back them up. Apparently, every monster on Earth has gone plum loco."
Sam and Dean exchanged looks, before nodding.
"We can do that." They both stood, shrugging on jackets and picking up the few weapons that had been taken from the Impala.
Hella looked up.
"I want to help…"
"It's too dangerous." Sam shook his head. "You're still weak."
"But I still have Famine, see?" She reached into her boot and produced the dagger, that same weary smile on her face that Sam had seen before they started meeting her brothers. "I made sure I had it before Dad took my grace."
Sam and Dean looked to Bobby, who shrugged.
"It's that or leave her here, and given how messed up some of these reports I've been getting are, I'd say there are a few creeps that wouldn't have sense to steer clear of the warding signs."
Sam sighed, but conceded. He gripped Hella's shoulder.
"Stay tight to us. Do exactly what we say, when we say it, and don't try to be a hero."
"Yeah, right." Hella laughed, her gloomy eyes making it seem bittersweet. "No problem there."
The sky boiled.
The storm hadn't shifted in the past week, and though the rain and lightning would occasionally stop, the clouds never moved. The sky was black with them, as far as the eye could see, and light danced above and below, the vapour becoming liquid and steam so fast it was throwing weather predictions for a loop.
Sam let a shiver pass through him as he looked up at the tumultuous sky, remembering the last time he had seen chaos like that. He remembered feeling Gabriel's grace pass through him, realising now that it had been a silent promise, a blessing; an oath that Sam would never have to see those horrors again.
"Dude." Dean was not impressed. "Are you going to help me, or are you just going to stand there staring?"
"Sorry." Sam grabbed the other bag and helped his brother carry everything from the Impala to their motel room. Hella was already up there. If the past week of hunts had taught them anything, it was that Hella was best left indoors, away from any monster. She was like catnip to the supernatural creeps, attracting three separate Demon attacks, two ghosts and the unwanted attentions of an entire coven of witches. Dean had snapped at her after that one, telling her that unless they wanted live bait, she was more trouble than she was worth. But then again, she more than made up for it with her mad ability to research. Even Sam had to admit that the speed she could read at and the vast amounts of information her brain could store was ludicrous, but Dean just laughed and said he was jealous because Hella managed to do it without coming off like a massive geek.
When they got up to the motel room, she was working her way through some particularly dense –looking leather-bound tome.
"Who wants to go get dinner?" said Dean, the implication being that Sam had better say yes. Sam sighed, but turned to leave again, not seeing the point in arguing. He could do with some thinking space anyway.
"I'll go with you." Hella looked up from her book, and Sam couldn't refuse her, as much as he wanted to. He sighed again, but motioned for her to walk with him. They aimed vaguely for the 7/11 they had seen at the other end of the street. Hella nudged Sam.
"So what's up?"
Sam rolled his eyes and shrugged. He wasn't going to tell Hella about what was currently going on in his mind, or the night with her father that caused it, but he supposed there was no harm reassuring her.
"I just… I wish we could know how he's doing."
"They look like they're fighting it out." Hella said, glancing skyward. "I think he's doing ok though."
"How can you tell?"
"I just… know." Hella shrugged, smiling up at Sam as they entered the shop. "He can look after himself."
And didn't Sam know it?
They grabbed some microwave meals and a few bars of chocolate for dessert, and Sam dropped them all on the counter, thanking the bored-looking girl behind the desk. They were half way to the door when Hella suddenly let out a gasp and crumpled to the floor. Sam fell to his knees and helped her up, but it seemed that whatever had come over her left as soon as it started.
"Go." She muttered, pushing Sam's arm. "We've got to go."
Suddenly, Sam felt it too, although he couldn't say whether it was because of Hella or not. A sense of dread, excitement and impending pain seemed to hit him like a train, and he reeled for a moment before grabbing the shopping bag in one hand, and Hella's arm in the other. They ran back towards the motel.
Along the eastern seaboard, the wild storms were doing wonders for the few fishermen mad enough to set sail. The ones who returned told of fish actually leaping into the boats, and huge shoals heading straight for the nets. If you were brave or stupid enough to face the iron-grey tides, you could fill a month's quota.
Jörmungandr, or Jör as he was known to the locals (he had told them it was short for Jössef, and no one had cared enough to question it) wasn't so amused.
He sat outside his tourist trap of a shop, feeling the rain against his face, watching the riotous sky with a dull sense of dread. The rain slicked his hair to his forehead, running down his neck and pooling in the saturated cotton of his hoody. Jör could read the rain in a way the local mortals couldn't.
He felt the rain drumming against his skin, and could hear in every raindrop a fraction of a sound. A clashing, crying sound; the screams of combat. Two armies… no, two figures, two beings as strong as armies, trying to tear each other apart. Gods? Angels? They had been, once. One of them sounded all too familiar, and as many years as it had been since they'd really spent any time together, Jör felt his heart rise in his throat as he pushed the thought aside. He focused on the other, instead.
It wasn't an angel. It wasn't a God.
It was something… other, something abhorrent, acting out of desperation, fear, loneliness… but it was strong. Like a rabid dog, it had no sense of preservation, and it would just keep attacking until its adversary was dead.
Jör closed his eyes, letting the rain tell him, letting it show him. He kicked off his sneakers, and leapt down off the seafront, the tides instantly covering the beaten brown sand beneath his feet. For every fraction of a picture the raindrops gave him, he heard in the sea a note of sound. Between the sea and the sky, Jör communed with the water, coaxing nature's story out of it.
His father had visited, briefly, since his reincarnation. It had been awkward, stilted, and more for Hella's benefit than anything, but Jör had seen in his father many things he thought he never would.
Humility, for one, as he apologised for Jör's treatment. There was modesty there, genuine emotion, and love. His father had finally stopped lying, it seemed. It was a good, honest thing he was doing, taking all that he cared about from his life as Loki, and trying to piece them into his life as Gabriel.
Now here he was, for the first time in centuries, taking on the mantle of heavenly defender.
Jör was a little proud of his father.
He wandered back towards the front of his store, feet shuffling into sneakers as he did. He took his keys from his pocket, locked up the shop, and left. If this storm was driving other animals as wild as it was driving the fish, he wanted to make sure Fen was alright. First though, he would stop once more, and visit his tree.
He had found, a few years ago, a beautiful cherry tree growing by the side of the road, and he had decided that it needed his care. When he'd found out about his father's death in some skeezy motel, he had wanted to do something. The blossoms were long gone from his roadside tree, of course, but Jör hoped the tree in the motel had grown a little better.
When Hella and Sam got back to the motel room, they found Dean, shocked and pale, staring at the couch. He was gripping the table, trying to hold himself up, and seemed to be in the middle of some sort of silent scream. As he came further into the room, Sam saw why.
On the couch, a smoke-like form was materialising. It was the body that had once belonged to Jimmy Novak, and more recently to Castiel, and it was becoming more real and more solid all the time. Dean croaked.
"Dean. I'm here, It's… it's ok."
"Yeah, I see it too. It's ok, Dean, I think it just means that Gabriel's going to… everything's going to be ok, Dean."
Hella had run over to the body, and was examining it closely.
"We're going to need another room." She smiled, nervous but strong. "The body will take a while to reform, and I doubt either of you will want to sleep in here with it."
Dean nodded, slowly turning his head away from the horrifying sight. He and Sam went to the lobby to ask for another room, the sense of mild horror at least managing to block out the roar of the storm for a little while.
By the next morning, Sam and Dean were back in the original motel room, staring at what was essentially a dead body on their couch. Dean seemed seriously unnerved. They weren't analysing. Weren't looking for marks or testing how it reacted to anything. They were just… staring at it.
When the empty vessel of your ally-turned-friend-turned psychopath materialised on the cheap couch of your motel, there wasn't much else you could do.
Sam's phone rang, startling all of them. He tore his attention away from the inert body, feeling slightly off-kilter.
"Sam? It's Jör. May I speak with Hella?"
"Oh… uh, yeah, hang on." Sam held the phone out to her, and she took it, confused. She spoke in Norwegian, and Sam got the distinct impression she was doing it so she wouldn't be overheard. She stopped soon enough though, and although Sam didn't know the meaning of the words, the tone spoke universally for "no, hang on, I'm losing signal".
"What?" She tried, shouting over noise that only she could hear. A sudden piercing shriek of feedback caused her to hold the phone at arm's length. It was at that moment the TV and radio both turned on, picking up static. Dean stared around slowly, seeming to struggle towards a distant memory. Eventually, realisation dawned.
"Oh, shit… Get on the ground! Cover your ears!"
Even as he spoke, the static was getting louder, taking on a shrill, piercing tone that never ended. Sam and Hella did as they were told; feeling the noise vibrate through them, through their heads and chests… the TV broke. Windows smashed themselves.
Sam wasn't sure if he heard Hella screaming at them to close their eyes, or if he did it out of instinct, because the noise was so loud, so unbearable… Even through his screwed tight eyelids, he could see the change in light, taking everything from black to pink to white, and leaving blurs of little orange hexagons on his vision.
The noise stopped.
Slowly, heart still thudding around his ribcage and brain trying to turn itself right-side-up again, he got to his feet. His vision was blurred and spotty, but it cleared enough for him to see Dean and Hella do the same.
The walls were blackened, and in some places burnt back to the wood panelling, as was the floor. In the centre of the circle of destruction stood Gabriel, hunched over the now breathing (but otherwise motionless) form of Castiel. Gabriel's shoulders slumped, and when he looked up at them, Sam had to bite back a gasp.
Gabriel was gaunt and weak; his skin was grey where it wasn't covered with blood and sweat. His cheeks puffed red and purple, and he looked like he had several broken bones. Blood trickled down his neck, leaking from a deep cut which stretched from his crown to just below his left, blood-filled eye. He flashed a weak smile at them, before staggering backwards into an arm chair. Hella ran to him, wanting to embrace but knowing she would probably hurt him if she did.
"Save it for later, kid." Gabriel smiled at her, closing his eyes. His voice was a hoarse, trembling wheeze, and the sound of it gave Sam a new burst of that punched-in-the-lungs feeling he'd been trying to ignore.
Gabriel lifted a weary, trembling hand and placed it on Hella's forehead.
"Y'all might want to close your eyes."
There was another blinding flash of light, and Hella found herself restored. Gabriel gave her a very weak, shaky smile, before his head fell back against the chair and he joined Castiel in the land of unconsciousness. Dean knelt by Castiel's head, looking like he was still in shock. Cautiously, he touched Castiel's hand, as if unsure how it would react. When Castiel reacted like any other unconscious body (i.e., he didn't), Dean seemed to swallow away whatever doubt or fear he had, and began checking Castiel's pulse and temperature. Unconscious and mortal, he could deal with.
Sam just staggered over to the bed, feeling utterly helpless as Hella gingerly pressed her hands to Gabriel's forehead, eyes the only part of her that betrayed her panic as she desperately tried to heal him.
It took three hours for Hella to heal her father, and when she did, he smoothed a hand over her head before hugging her in thanks. It had taken a lot out of her, and he whispered something to her in what Sam thought was Norwegian. She nodded, hugged him again and kissed his cheek, before stumbling over to lie down on one of the motel's beds. As she did, Castiel groaned and moved on the couch, stirring in his sleep. Dean pressed a cold washcloth to his head, watching him intently. In the three hours since they had returned, Dean had spared Gabriel only the briefest of glances.
Gabriel watched them for a moment, before clearing his throat and struggling to his feet.
"I need some air. Sam, walk with me?"
Sam blushed, opening his mouth to protest, but Gabriel was already taking him by his elbow.
The night was dark around them, the air so cold Sam felt the hair on his arms instantly prickle. Gabriel winced as he shut the door, leaning heavily on the handle. Sam reached out and gripped his arm, more to stop the pitiful display than anything.
"Here, lean on me."
"Thanks." Hesitantly, Gabriel slipped his arm around Sam's waist as Sam held his shoulders. If the human minded, he didn't say anything.
The silence sat as they eased each other down the stairs to the parking lot.
"Are you ok?"
"I'll be fine. Hella got me well enough that I could take care of myself. Two eyes, ten fingers and ten toes. It's just…" Gabriel's hand gripped slightly tighter around Sam's waist as he stopped walking, his face contorted in pain. "Just a couple of internal injuries she missed."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Just… keep being you." Gabriel laughed, relaxing slightly as whatever pain he had been in eased. His grip on Sam, however, did not relax. They kept walking.
"So… uh, are we ok?"
Sam sighed, knowing from the archangel's masterfully raised eyebrow that he wasn't going to be able to get out of this conversation.
"Why were you so eager to leave the motel room?"
Doesn't mean he wasn't going to try.
"Turns out I was wrong. The bond between Dean and Castiel hasn't been severed, not entirely. Dean's doing everything he can to rebuild the bond, and that'll help Castiel's recovery. I'm a little worried about leaving Hella in there, actually, but… she can fly if she really wants to get away."
"Why?" Sam stopped, concerned. "Is it dangerous?"
"No, but there's going to be so much sexual tension when he finally wakes up that…"
"Ew, no, I don't want to hear the rest of it."
Gabriel laughed, and Sam's breath almost caught just at the sound of it. It was like a breeze on a warm day, a hug from a friend. It was relief.
"So Castiel's going to make it?"
"As long as Dean doesn't fall back into denial. Castiel's a tough little soldier." Gabriel looked up at Sam, discomfort heavy in his face. "He knocked about twenty kinds of crap out of me before I got him down here though. It was… weird."
"Terrifying." Sam felt a shudder pass through the archangel, and pulled him closer without thinking about it. "He wasn't himself. He was… livid. This feral creature living inside him, driven half mad… I had to, uh…" Gabriel winced again, his hand springing to his forehead. Sam walked him over to a nearby bench. "I had to fight him down, show him where he went wrong… bring him back to his senses, you know?"
"Wow." Sam helped Gabriel sit, before sitting down next to him.
"Yeah… a more practiced soldier of heaven than I would probably have gotten the job done sooner…"
"Hey, you did fine." Sam clapped him on the arm. "You made it out alive and with Cas intact. And you haven't run off either."
"Yeah, but I was out… what six days? Seven?"
"Closer to eight."
"Yikes. See, back in the day, Michael would have had it cleared up in a half hour. And probably not got torn to shit in the process."
"You did great, Gabriel." Sam patted the archangel's arm, suddenly realising that they had yet to disentangle form each other. "I'm proud of you."
"Thanks." Gabriel chuckled, before letting himself lean a little more against Sam. "So. What's going on with the two of us?"
Sam paused for a moment, wondering if he could change the subject again, before catching sight of Gabriel's raised eyebrow.
"Don't fob me off, Sam. I can always just read your thoughts."
"I don't know." Sam sighed, feeling the words drag themselves through his brain. "I just… With Dean and Cas, they're going to be sorting themselves out…"
"I didn't ask about Dean and Castiel."
"…and you and Hella have your issues…"
"I didn't ask about Hella, either. What do you want, Sam?"
"I don't know." Sam leant forward, his elbows on his knees. "I want… I want to be like I was, before this whole souls mess. I want to know who I am. I want to be happy."
"Ok. So what makes you happy?" Gabriel sat forward, resting his hands on Sam's arm. "Did I… were you happy, when we were together?"
Sam looked at Gabriel. His hair still messed and untidy, the cuts and bruises on his face gone, but in the dim parking lot light his pale skin had an oddly orange glow. His eyes were muddied with fear and concern as he watched all of Sam's movements and motions, but still gleaming with that touch of soft caramel.
"I don't know." Sam murmured, slowly reaching up to rest his hand against Gabriel's cheek. "Remind me."
Gabriel obliged, leaning in to close the gap between them. As their lips met, Sam felt the great, tiresome weight he had been carrying lift from his chest, breathing freely for the first time in over a week. This time, he couldn't blame the air, the drink, the sleeplessness. It was yearning, it was wanting, it was…
As he felt Gabriel's hands press against his neck, as he felt their lips press together, he realised that he was feeling loved. The feeling was that of Gabriel being there, wanting him, telling him without words that he would always want him; it was something so foreign and scary and exciting that Sam didn't know how to take it. He broke away from the kiss, needing to breathe even if Gabriel didn't.
"I guess you must have heard all that." He said, after a while.
"Sorry." Gabriel smiled, his eyes shining. "Like I said, mind-reading isn't something you can turn off."
"Well… You know what you're getting into, at least."
"I know." Gabriel pressed another kiss to Sam's lips. "And it takes far more than that to scare me off."
"I've missed you." The words were all the more painful now that Sam got to say them out loud. "I had no way of knowing… what if you'd…"
"Hey." Gabriel held Sam's hands, giving him that heavenly, reassuring smile that only an angel could manage. Even a reluctant one like Gabriel. "Like you said; I'm here. I'm ok. I survived. And I did it because I couldn't bear to let you down again. The last time, against Lucifer, I knew all I could do was buy you time, and it made me so sad to think I couldn't do more. But this time, I did it, and I did it right. You are not alone, Sam Winchester."
Sam pulled Gabriel into a hug, pressing kisses to his forehead. They sat that way for a while, just happy to be alive. Just happy to be happy.
Gabriel sat up, his head cocked to one side, listening.
"Hella." He muttered, still trying to decode whatever message he was getting. "She's gone to see Jör and Fen. Something happened, they're… upset? They were… I wish she'd be more specific. She said she'd be back in the morning."
Sam smiled at Gabriel, his muscles aching as he slipped into the nearly forgotten sequence of movements.
"Stay with me. In the spare room."
"Of course." Gabriel linked arms with Sam, resting his head on the human's shoulder. "Although I don't think I'll be up for anything too athletic just yet."
Somewhere in the back of Dean's brain, he registered that Sam had left and not returned. As a big brother, it was the sort of cataloguing system he had developed which he couldn't really turn off. But he could decide if he cared or not. As he looked down on the fervent, shaking form of Cas, who was fighting against his own body, Dean decided that Sam could look after himself. Hella had gone, too, but she had her powers again. She had mentioned Jör, and Dean knew he'd look out for her.
He pressed the damp washcloth against the newly human forehead, the exposed floorboards digging into his knees. Again, Dean vaguely registered that he would have to get Gabriel to restore the room to the state it was in when they found it, but the thought kept mostly to itself. Dean just kept pressing the washcloth against Castiel's taught, grey skin, unconsciously mirroring every facial tick and expression.
Castiel stirred in his sleep, his hand drifting up to ward against some dreamed attacker, a frightened moan escaping his lips. Dean gripped Castiel's hand in his, pressing the cooling washcloth to his cheeks and forehead.
"I'm here, Cas." He didn't have to think about the words. He wasn't even sure if Castiel could hear him, which made it a little easier, but for the most part, Dean had stopped thinking. He wasn't worried about how he might sound, about how he might be perceived. For once, he knew he was focused on feeling. When Cas felt better, he would feel better. It was a curious flip inside him. If he had been more connected to the rest of the world, he would have noticed the last time he was this intent on the way he could change how someone felt, the urge had not been to nurse or make better. It had been to destroy.
But he didn't think about that. Didn't think about anything. Just held Castiel's hand, soothing him until the frightened tension had gone.
"You scared me. Scared us all shitless, Cas… You don't do things by halves, huh?" He pressed the cloth lightly to Castiel's dried, chapped lips, watching the flush of blood turn them pink as they responded to the pressure. "If you're still you in there, if you're still the same Cas who dragged me out of the pit… and I know you are, Cas, I don't have your handprint on me for nothing, right? We want you back. Get better. We won't judge, we won't hold it against you. You just have to tell me why, and I'll beat on anyone who says they don't like you for it…"
Now he had started talking, Dean wasn't sure he could stop. He pushed back the few wet strands of hair on Castiel's forehead, and started to loosen Castiel's tie, undoing the top button of his shirt.
"You'll breathe better like this. Yeah, breathing. You've got to watch out for shit like that now. You're human, sorry 'bout that. I guess Gabriel sees angel powers as a privilege, not a right… or something. I know last time you started turning human, I wasn't too much help. I should have treated you better Cas, I know, but I didn't know how to deal with my own problems, forget keeping someone else up too. But I'll do right, this time. I'll teach you what you need to know. I raised Sam, right? I can get you through this too. Just… don't ever scare me again."
He sat back, realising that he hadn't had anything to eat or drink in the past four hours and should probably see to it. As he moved away, he felt Castiel's hand tense, gripping his.
"I'll be right back." He soothed. "I promise."
The grip relaxed slightly, and Dean pulled away to get himself a glass of water. Under the rush of the faucet, he wasn't sure if he'd imagined hearing that hoarse, scratchy voice, weak and quiet, shaking as the speaker tried to remember how to control his vocal chords.
A whisper, nothing more, but it was enough to make sure Dean sat by the couch all night, watching the newly human Cas struggle with his life.