An old woman fills a basket with oranges, somewhere in a crowded market in northern Italy, and smiles kindly at the young man. He mumbles his thanks, then continues to wander down the street between buildings that are centuries old. Michael is lost in his thoughts until he hears a beat of wings, whose frequency was once very close to his own.
Gabriel flies differently now, with a joy and a freedom Michael doesn't understand. He assumes his little brother - Gabriel will always be his little brother, no matter what happens - learnt to love life during the time he was away from Heaven.
"Hello, brother." Michael greets Gabriel with a low voice.
He had hoped to stay hidden, but running from Gabriel had always been a futile act, because Gabriel knew too much about said activity.
"Michael." Gabriel breathes his name so softly, like he feels it something to be careful with. But Michael can not think he is worth the effort that tenderness calls for. "What are you doing?"
'Buying oranges,' Michael wants to answer, but it wouldn't be the truth. Hiding and thinking would come closer to his current actions.
"Feeling miserable," he finally says, abrasively, because Gabriel has a way to spot every lie and each omission of emotion.
Most people would be taken aback. Such a statement should hold more emotion; not a cold, indifferent voice. Most people... But Gabriel is not most people. Certainly not, or thankfully not, since most beings wouldn't realise how close Michael is to completely falling apart on a crowded street somewhere in northern Italy.
Michael is glad Gabriel left Castiel with the Winchesters. He simply wouldn't see or dare to point out what Gabriel sees. Little rebellious angel or not, Michael is the oldest archangel and demands an entirely different authority than others such as Zachariah; it would be hard to get past that.
Carefully, Gabriel places a hand on Michael's back. He rubs until he can feel the wings tremble within Michael's vessel; this gives him relief. Gabriel hopes to fill the aching gaps in Michael's grace with his own, though after it is done, it does not do as much as he'd wished it would. The millennia old wounds seem too scarred to truly react.
It's not a coincidence that Michael's new vessel is a man who spent the better half of his life fighting against terrorists. Far away from his home, his wife and his kids, he had become a traumatised stranger. Unsurprisingly, the similarities between human and angel dictate how well the angel fits into a vessel.
Gabriel's fingers curl into the strong muscles to find the gruff feathers beneath. The outer layers are supposed to be ragged and firm, to protect the inner circles from external influences, but Michael's are dry.
Gabriel tries to keep his control, and sends a prayer to Sam. After all, it was his lover's thoughtful look which convinced him to follow Michael.
"Hell was awful for all of us, not just me and Adam." Gabriel repeats Sam's words with the same regard as he once did with His messages.
Sometimes, the amount of insight Sam possesses scares Gabriel. His lover is able to simply understand and care, even after his suffering through Hell, the Apocalypse, and Lucifer controlling his body.
"What did Adam say?" Gabriel asks, since it had to be Adam. The kid had a sharp tongue and could be defiant to the end when he wanted to be. Given the fact that he had been with Dean and Castiel, Gabriel suspected disappointment, contempt attitudes and spite had played an important role in the boy's wit.
"He called me a monster," the oldest archangel says, repeating the words that caused him to flee in the first place. He, the defender of Heaven, was not able to look Adam straight in the eyes. Like his namesake, Adam sees and knows too much, and it hurts. It hurts being looked at with fear and hatred, or used as a weapon and as something which is dangerous.
Michael loses his grip of reality for a moment, but Gabriel holds him in place before Michael gets lost in time and space. Watching Michael lean back against the cold stone after that, because he didn't even bring himself to be supported by another archangel, is utterly heartbreaking; the next sentence threatens to be even more so.
"I think he's right," Michael confesses. "I know little about humans, like Adam has pointed out. I have no right to judge them, and history is proof of how utterly wrong I can be with my decisions."
Gabriel feels like he wants to cry, because he hadn't even thought to see past his own pain to actually comprehend Michael's. Until now. Hearing Michael talk like he is, Gabriel opens his arms to pull Michael closer; he neither resists or moves of his own accord. He seems lost in his own thoughts.
"Michael," Gabriel calls, but the other archangel doesn't react.
With a beat of his wings, Gabriel makes sure to shield them from human sight, and slowly pulls the basket of oranges from Michael's tight grip to put it on the ground. He had feared that Sam was right, but he'd never imagined that Michael honestly believed himself to be a monster.
Yet, Gabriel can see why Michael thinks that way.
It was Lucifer. It was always Lucifer. While both of them were glad that Michael hadn't needed to kill their brother, it didn't stop Gabriel from hurting on a mental level that he'd managed to seal away. For Michael, though, Lucifer's absence appears to be like being drowned in a sea of darkness.
Gabriel felt the same way, when he first fled from Heaven. Though, unlike him, Michael never saw the light again. Only greying colours, at best, ever get through now.
"Big bro," Gabriel tries, and this forces a reaction out of the upset archangel in his arms.
Michael embraces him, curls his fingers in his wings and buries his face in his hair. Gabriel hugs him back, whispering promises to never let him go again; that he's needed, loved and wanted.
'Sometimes, I think I forget how to feel at all.' Michael sends him his thoughts after a short moment.
"We'll teach you," Gabriel answers. "We'll teach you, Michael."