A.N.: Some readers seem to have gotten the impression that this story is finished… While I appreciate and revel in your feedback and comments, I have to say, you clearly don't know me nearly well enough if you think I'm going to leave it there! Our adventure is only just beginning!

(-*-)

They were dazed, slightly, as they stumbled into the car, an uncomfortable weight pressing on Sam's shoulders. It was as though some invisible force had grabbed his shoulders, and every time he looked at Gabriel, or thought he saw Gabriel looking at him, he felt the hand press down, forcing him to snap away from it. He was most definitely not comfortable with how his insides had all started doing a two-step when he had seen Gabriel through all that white light. He decided to employ the Winchester patented method of Repress'n'Deny until such a point where he was calm, collected and drunk enough to actually examine those feelings. For now, they were bound and gagged in his mental trunk.

Hella, her skin still pale and sickly, appeared to be compensating for her trauma by getting completely over excited, practically bouncing in her seat behind Dean. Unfortunately, it seemed that, when she got excited, she forgot which language she was speaking.

"Far, jeg er så glad det fungerte! Jeg har så mye til..."

"Hella." Gabriel silenced her, his eyes closed. He shifted his weight, clearly uncomfortable, before resting a hand on hers. "I'm very grateful for the whole un-deadening thing back there. Really, you have no idea how much. But I'm more than a little tired, honey, I need some rest."

Hella looked at him with wide eyes, shrinking back and biting her lips. Sam watched her in the rear view mirror, noting how content she was to sit there staring at her father, not letting her thoughts drift to her own torture, even for a moment. That devotion… that kind of loyalty, had he and Dean been like that? Unquestioning, unheeding, just silently begging for their father's approval…

"Hella." Sam cleared his throat. "Are you ok? You sure you don't want to sleep or anything?"

"Yeah…" Dean chimed in, glancing at her in the rear view. "It's a half hour between here and Bobby's, maybe a little rest would do you good."

Hella seemed reluctant, but she agreed all the same, settling in and closing her eyes. Gabriel sighed.

"Thought she'd never fall asleep."

"I thought you were resting?"

"Resting doesn't mean sleeping." He responded, his voice the same dry sarcasm as it had ever been, but Sam could see his eyes were heavy, and he seemed to be using serious effort to form words.

"Are you sure you're all in one piece? The ritual did work properly?"

"Yeah, yeah. I'm just a little stunned. Going to need some recuperation time."

"How do we know this is for real?" Dean's grip on the steering wheel had tightened, and Sam could see Dean was already put on edge. Who could blame him, Sam guessed, after all the things the Trickster had put them through.

"I assure you, Dean, I am the archangel you were looking for." He gave a brief huff of laughter, and pressed his forehead against the window, shielding his eyes with his hands. "Look inside yourself, you know it to be true."

"Yeah, well, Alec Guinness impressions aside," (Sam ignored Dean's comment about him being a massive nerd) "we didn't bring you back for nothing. You really missed a lot while you were out and…"

"No…" Gabriel moaned. He looked and sounded strung out… and a little bit drunk. But not the funny, goofy kind of drunkenness you might expect; more the morose, drowning sorrows kind of drunk. "Talk about it tomorrow. I need to rest, or I'll be no good to anyone. I doubt I could mojo open a can of soda at this point, and my grace is kind of in the process of being born again."

"But we need to talk…"

"Tomorrow, Sam." Gabriel fixed both Winchesters with his serious face. The last time they'd seen it, it had been accompanied with orders to get Kali the hell out of the way and let the angels duke it out. They both got the message.

(-*-)

It hurts.

Sam is eternally locked in this horrifying new pain that he's never felt before. There are not words to describe the sheer torment, the agony, because when he experiences it, it is all he knows, and he cannot remember any words at all. The only sounds he can make are screams…

"Sam."

Dean shook him awake, a weird grin on his face. "You ok, buddy?"

"What…" Sam blinked and stretched, prizing his head away from the passenger window of the Impala. The dream was already retreating from the cold yellow light that shone on them from Bobby's porch. Sam slapped himself back into reality, and was about to get out of the Impala when he saw Gabriel out of the corner of his eye.

Gabriel was staring at him, with a completely foreign expression. It wasn't quite pity, nor was it suspicion or compassion, it was just, whole heartedly, unerringly sad. Sam felt the force of the turbulent expression hit him, for a fraction of a second, before Gabriel seemed to snap to life and get out of the car.

Sam carried Hella to Dean's old room, and Dean elected to stay in the panic room, at least for the night. Sam was sure he heard him mumbling something about "keeping the damn trickster at arm's length", but didn't press the matter. Gabriel could stay on the couch, since he honestly didn't seem to know whether he'd end up sleeping or not. Bobby merely humphed that it was too late to be dealing with a bunch of idjits, and then went back to bed. Sam thought sleep sounded like a very good idea.

(-*-)

It hurts.

No matter where he went, what he did, the pain was everywhere. At first, Sam thinks, he had tried to fight it. He is fairly sure he remembers that, because he thinks that, when he did, the pain got worse. He thinks that, but then he's not sure how the pain could get worse, so perhaps he didn't do that at all and he just imagined the whole thing.

It hurts.

He thinks that he used to long for these moments, where the pain isn't happening, and he just has to deal with the fact that it happened. He thinks that he used to cherish them, or what he used to think was "cherishing", because he used to think they gave him what he used to think of as "release".

Hurts.

Hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurt hurts.

What did that word mean? He thinks he used to know it, or he thinks that's what he thinks, but he can't be sure. He's suffered the pain for too long, now, and the one thing he knows for certain is that he is broken. Broken and hurt.

He thinks he should know more. He thinks he used to, although he only thinks there was a "used to" to begin with, he thinks he may have made it up.

"Sam..."

Hurt.

He thinks the pain has started again. But then, he thinks that the pain usually lasts longer, usually feels worse… he thinks the light may be stopping it. There's a lot of it, now, all around him, and he thinks that the light is something else. He thinks there was a word for it, once, he thinks that it used to be important, in the "used to" he only thinks exists. He can't think of the word, so he thinks he should call it Not-Pain, because that is all he knows.

"Oh, kiddo… they really did a number on you, huh?"

The light, the Not-Pain, Sam thinks it is holding him, because he thinks there's so much of it, and he thinks it's everywhere, and he thinks he can feel the light touching him.

Hurt.

"I know, Sammy. I'm sorry for walking in on you, but I could… I could feel you dreaming. That's all it is, Sam, it's just a dream, there's nothing to be afraid of."

It's not just touching him, he thinks. He thinks the Not-Pain is holding him, he thinks he can feel it all around him, holding him. But he thinks there are special words for it, because he thinks the way the light feels is different to the way he thinks the pain feels.

Hurt.

"I'm keeping them away, Sam. See? Look at me, Sam, look at my light. It's ok, I'm going to make it ok."

Light.

"That's right, Sammy. Light. Not pain, light. I'm sorry, Sammy. I had no idea… I'd never have wanted them to do this to you. Sam? Sam?"

Light…

(-*-)

The smell that filled the house was both salty and sweet, and it charmed Sam from his sleep in such a silky, luxurious call that he almost wondered if he was still dreaming. Waking up at your own pace to the smell of a decent breakfast isn't exactly something you get used to if you're a hunter.

He descended the stairs, following the smell that floated from the kitchen. He blinked slightly as he saw Hella and Dean sat at the kitchen table, with Gabriel stood at the stove. He turned around as he heard Sam's footsteps, revealing a frankly ludicrous and slightly disturbing "Kiss the Cook" apron, which was covered in hot pink PVC lip prints and had one corner emblazoned with a winking cat face.

Sam nearly choked.

"Morning, Samsquatch. Want some choc-chip pancakes?" So saying, he flipped one onto a plate. Sam, managing to drag his eyes away from the Apron Of Terror, went to the fridge for some milk.

"No, thanks, I'm not a fan."

"Sammy likes boring food for breakfast." Dean teased, reaching forward to steal his plate, but getting a swift spatula-smack to the back of his hand.

"I like healthy food, Dean." Sam didn't look up from checking the expiry date on the milk, before pouring himself a glass. When he turned around again, the pancake meant for Sam was now a selection of fresh fruits, toast and a cup of coffee. He raised an eyebrow.

"I take it you're recovered."

"Not quite." The apron disappeared, thankfully, and Gabriel sat down between Sam and Hella. "I'm stretching my muscles. Mojo-therapy, if you will. This is… to say thanks." He seemed awkwardly humble, motioning at the impressive breakfast spread. "And sorry. For generally being a douchewad. I had my reasons, but I appreciate that I maybe wasn't helping things, and we need to move on."

"Wow." Sam eyed the archangel suspiciously as he took a spoon and tucked into the fruit selection. "That's… surprisingly humble of you."

"Oh, don't get me wrong. I was still totally accurate in saying you two knuckleheads should just follow the script, because for one thing I wouldn't have died. But `I said, You said` is not going to get my little brother out of the astronomical tree he's gotten stuck in."

Hella grinned at Sam.

"Dad said he's going to help save Castiel."

Sam shot a sidelong glance at Dean, who was watching the archangel with something not far from reluctant hope. Dean couldn't forgive and forget, but he could revise his earlier statements.

Sam wondered, briefly, if he shouldn't be more pissed off about Gabriel trying to breeze in and buy everyone off, but… somehow he didn't. Somehow, somewhere in the back of his mind, he had the sincere impression that Gabriel wanted to help.

"I said I'd try. Give me a few days, let me get fully recovered, then we'll see about plans." Gabriel swallowed a mouthful of pancakes, and narrowed his eyes at Sam.

"What's eating you?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing. Just… do you ever have that feeling that you had a really amazing dream, but every time you try and remember it, you can't quite get there?"

There it was again, just like Sam had seen in the Impala. A flash of that unwaveringly sad face, except this time, with a little shine to Gabriel's eyes. He shrugged, and it was gone.

"I can't say I ever had. But then, you know, Archangel."

They ate for a while, before Dean seemed to remember something, and nudged Hella's elbow. Hella looked at him, seemed to get the drift of whatever he was trying to tell her, and giggled. Sam raised an eyebrow at Dean, who was scooping the last few remnants of his pancakes into his mouth. By way of an answer, Dean jerked his head towards the door.

"Hey, Dad?" Hella smiled, her face the vision of pure innocence. She stood slightly, as Gabriel looked up.

"Yeah?"

"Fen says hi."

"Oh… I should probably go visit him, once I'm running at full speed."

"Yeah." Hella grinned at Sam and Dean, who were slowly backing away from the table. "I'm sure he and the puppies would love to see you."

"It's been a… wait, what?"

"Hey douchewad, you're a grampa!" Dean grinned. Gabriel's eyes grew wide, and he stared at him. "Hey. It had to happen sooner or later, given how old you are."

The three of them darted out of the kitchen to avoid the left-over pancakes which flew after them, followed by a stream of curses. Ok, Sam huffed. Maybe he could get behind having Gabriel join the team. If nothing else, it would be fun.