AN: yes it's been a long while. Depression and a work schedule that leaves me with very little if any downtime has taken a bit of a toll on my writing. BUT I recently sat down and finished this chapter so that maybe someone would believe that I still plan on writing this damn thing. Which I do.
"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever had the misfortune of doing," Harry says and applies a sticking charm to yet another chair. "I'll remind you that I once took a class where the Professor set an entire cage of Cornish pixies loose."
"Cornish pixies, really?" Gabriel asks and Harry is pointedly ignoring the way his hair doesn't stick straight up despite his perch sitting on a table attached to the ceiling.
"Entertaining in hindsight," he says and adds the finishing touches to the placement of the final chair. "Mind telling me what we're doing?"
"This charming little hovel is going to be foreclosed and snapped up by some slimy little man – goes by the name Mcilroy."
"Fascinating; what are we doing?"
"Have a little faith."
"You are not funny."
"If that helps you sleep at night."
"I don't sleep," Gabriel sneers a little and sniffs haughtily. "I'm above such theatrics."
"Sleeping is not theatrical."
"It is if you do it right."
"Dirty," Harry chides without real feeling. The Trickster grins at him and swings down to stand on the normal plane of gravity. "So it's a sort of prank then?"
"Sort of," Gabriel hedges and busies himself inspecting the table settings stuck on an angle.
It's the kind of 'sort of' the Twins used to use when they were about to do something potentially hilarious and also potentially harmful. It's a fine line to walk – between pranking and outright cruelty – and Harry isn't so sure Gabriel is as playful as he'd like Harry to believe. He mostly trusts him but there's always that lingering unsettled feeling.
"Alright," he mutters skeptically. Gabriel flashes a wide grin and Harry holds back his derisive snort. "So where do we start then?"
"Tuesday," Gabriel says and Harry has never heard a day of the week sound as terribly wicked as it does coming out of the Trickster's mouth.
It begins with breakfast. Harry stands at the counter in a white shirt and black pants and feels ridiculous. Gabriel looks like an old man and it's disconcerting to know that it's the archangel siting before him wearing this strange face. He's pouring coffee and very carefully not staring at the two boys sitting at the booth behind his friend.
The waitress drops the hot-sauce and Gabriel twists around to watch, lips twisting in an amused smirk, before he meets Harry's gaze.
"Incorrigible," Harry pronounces softly. He has no doubt that little accident was the Trickster even if it is ridiculously subtle compared to his usual antics.
"I'm just getting warmed up," Gabriel says cheerfully.
It's the Second Tuesday and Harry watches the taller boy twitching fretfully and refusing breakfast. He shoots Gabriel a suspicious look which the angel returns with a bright smile and a hefty tip.
They meet shortly thereafter so Gabriel can reset the loop. "This was shorter than yesterday," he says.
"Couldn't help it, I had a better idea," the Trickster grins and Harry feels the diner uniform reform and the Third Tuesday starts.
The boy looks frantic this morning. A sort of frustrated, furious anxiety that has him trembling and staring at the other pleadingly as they mutter between themselves.
"What are you doing to that man?" Harry scowls even when Gabriel shoots him furtive warning looks. "Oh shush, they aren't paying any attention."
"I'm making a point."
They make it through nearly a full day before Harry finds Gabriel nudging him awake where he'd been napping in the motel bed.
Gabriel smiles and the world melts away into morning and the diner once more.
Harry watches the one boy choke on his order of sausage and whirls on the Trickster mid-reset. It halts the swirl of time around them and the diner is a blurred mess of colour and light and frozen all in place.
"What was that?" he demands. "Was that the point? That you can kill some kid again and again?"
"He's not actually dead," Gabriel argues. "Just temporarily…incapacitated – no harm done."
"The other one notices so there's certainly some harm done," he snaps. He'd assumed this was an elaborate prank. To find out that there's a more sinister motive behind this makes Harry itch uncomfortably and want to vanish back home until the feeling goes away.
Harry doesn't even get to see the diner for the Fifth Tuesday. They skip to the Sixth before he even gets a chance to orient himself from the reset.
Several days skip by in a blur of resets too quick for Harry to recover. He eventually reaches out with the help of his Deathstick and everything halts. He drops to the bed and puts his head between his knees to inhale deeply and just breathe for a moment.
The archangel looks a little apologetic from where he's peering up at him crouched on the ground at the wizard's feet. "Alright?" he asks cautiously – like he's uncertain of his welcome. His hands are very warm on Harry's thighs and his thumbs are rubbing soothing little circles that make it hard for Harry to stay angry for very long.
"I don't approve of torment," he says and stares very steadily at Gabriel. Memories of the Cruciatus hold nothing to the pain of that year on the run and watching his loved ones die. It's a special sort of torture and he hates that Gabriel is using that against these boys and using Harry to facilitate it.
"It's not about the death," Gabriel says softly and his wings glimmer in Harry's vision and he feels very warm and very loved despite everything. Gabriel shifts so that the wizard can rest his forehead against the angel's shoulder and it eases the pressure and dizziness behind his eyes. "Just trust me, okay? I know what I'm doing."
"You never know what you're doing," he grumbles but he relaxes his grip over the Elder Wand and lets the world blur back into the diner once more.
Harry watches the boys now. He watches them fight over tearing apart the Mystery Spot. He watches them burn it down. The blonde goes along amicably most days – accepting the proof provided rapid-fire over breakfast – and then Gabriel gets that look in his eye and something happens. Eventually the simmering resentment in his gut dies and he finds himself amused at some of the outrageousness of it all.
Then Gabriel decides he wants strawberry syrup.
Harry has a variant of the muffliato up and Gabriel looks amused at it. The strange face is starting to grow on the wizard. "You're going to get yourself caught," he says even as he puts the pink syrup down and tucks the maple away.
"I mean to," Gabriel admits with the air of one finally being allowed to do what he wants. "It's going to be awesome."
The boys are going to finish their breakfasts soon. Harry tilts his head at the plate of pancakes and is a tiny bit disgusted with the way Gabriel inhales the majority – leaving his usual piece behind in a pool of pink. "I somehow doubt that."
"Just follow them when they leave yeah? I want your reaction too."
Harry nods fractionally and watches Gabriel leave. The boys get up shortly after and the taller pulls himself up short – staring blankly for a long moment at the syrup bottle.
He questions it and the world blurs around them.
"I thought you wanted me to follow them?"
"I want him to know it's me," Gabriel says gleefully. "This should certainly do it."
"Incorrigible," Harry returns but dutifully hands over the syrup – maple again – when Gabriel gestures impatiently.
The archangel strolls along casually. Harry follows at a sedate distance – the boys are too intent to notice a follower anyway – and something in him clenches when he watches the taller slam the Trickster against the fence and hold a stake to his throat.
He can't hear their conversation but when Gabriel's familiar face swims into view he decides enough is enough.
"…so not about killing Dean," he's saying. "This joke is on you, Sam."
"Trickster," Harry says placidly. The older whirls on him – hand flying to a hidden pistol – but the Wizard only has eyes for the archangel. "He's not taking the joke well."
"I can see that, thanks," the Trickster returns sarcastically.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Friendly acquaintance," Harry says and the same time Gabriel pipes up with "groupie!" They share a glance and Harry reads defeat in the set of his mouth. "Friends," he says firmly, tearing his gaze away and setting it on the younger brother.
"What he said," Gabriel agrees.
"The boy isn't taking the joke well," Harry says while maintaining eye contact with the younger. The older one is already pretty hesitant about the entire situation even given a Trickster held at stake-point; he's not going to let this one do anything stupid while under the stress of Gabriel's tricks. "I find Tuesday losing its appeal. Can we continue our week now?"
Gabriel smiles insolently. "If you insist!" he grins at the boy, "I promise, you wake up and it'll be Wednesday."
"Or I could just kill you now," he snarls in return.
"Or…" the Trickster drawls, and wiggles his fingers at him, "that's not going to happen. Toodles!" he snaps his fingers and Harry feels the world blur forward this time.
"You're going to torture that boy," Harry says immediately – staring hard at the small portrait of a black stallion that adorns the wall immediately left of his study in a vain attempt at controlling the temper he'd thought lost long ago. He can hear Gabriel preparing to lie and says sharply, "You're going to torture him."
"He's still in the loop," Gabriel says with something like caution in his voice, "but it's not repeating anymore."
"His brother is still going to die then."
"Temp – "
"Is he or he is not going to die, Trickster?" Harry turns and just looks at the angel. He seems surprised – a feat the Wizard has assumed impossible.
Gabriel doesn't respond. His eyes flicker brown-gold-green and then he looks away. "I need one of them to understand the game they're playing with the future. There's more riding on them than they realize and my family – " he pauses. "My family will take advantage of them and they will be far crueler than I."
There's more Angel in the set of his shoulders, in the cadence of his voice, in the way his wings are shimmering brightly in Harry's vision, than the Wizard has ever seen. Gabriel is so careful about keeping that side of him something like a punch-line to a joke never voiced that Harry sometimes forgets how powerful the other is. A Trickster is powerful, yes, but there's a difference between making it seem like a single day is repeating for one person and making an entirely separate timeline for one person while actual time continues on and being able to sustainboth entirely on one's own.
Harry has never believed in justifying one cruelty with the lack of a different cruelty but this is an argument he won't win. So he sets his shoulders and sighs heavily in acquiescence. Gabriel doesn't brighten or seem relieved but there's still something grateful about the way he steps close and curls his hands around Harry's elbows and simply grips – keeping them close enough that the Wizard can smell the lingering scent of coffee and syrup clinging to the Trickster's clothes for all that they've reverted to his usual attire.
"Go on then," he mutters, "make your point. But Teddy's going to be visiting next week and I expect your best behaviour if you're going to be stopping by then."
"Done," Gabriel smiles and his wings curl gently forward – they feel warm around Harry and even if they don't ease his doubts they still leave a sense of peace – before he vanishes.