Sam Winchester was a mess.
Oh, he'd been a mess for a while now - years, even - but recently...recently it had really started showing.
The way he flinched ever so slightly when Lucifer or the Apocalypse were mentioned. His guilt when Dean had described his unexpected temporal road-trip. His self-hatred...
That hadn't gone unnoticed either - at least not by Gabriel.
"Gabriel? The Archangel?" Sam asked in shock.
"Okay, Gabriel. How does an Archangel become a Trickster?"
"My own personal witness protection," Gabriel answered, eyes on Sam even though Dean had been the one to ask the question. "I skipped out of Heaven, had a face transplant...carved out my own little corner of the world. Until you two screwed it all up."
Dean looked unimpressed, but Sam...Sam's expression caught Gabriel's attention.
"What did Daddy say when you ran off and joined the pagans?"
"Daddy doesn't say anything about anything."
"Then what happened? Why'd you ditch?"
He'd said *why*, but Gabriel had heard something else too.
^^*How* did you get away from it all?^^
Even as he'd begged Gabriel to help, Sam had envied him for finding a way out of the whole mess all those years ago, because Sam wanted a way out of it now.
Lonely, guilty, full of self-loathing and looking for a way out...it was a bad combination any day of the week.
All that, and with Lucifer on hand to keep offering a way - not ideal, but possible - for Sam to escape...? It was a *really* fucking bad combination.
Would he be able to keep holding out?
Gabriel wasn't sure.
It had been the only logical solution, really.
One day, when Castiel was off looking for Dad, Gabriel had snuck into the motel room where the two Winchesters slept, and placed a Grace-ward on Sam.
If any of his brothers - other than Castiel...he'd written in an exception to avoid being notified every time his baby brother decided to stalk Dean - went near Sam, physically or otherwise (yes, he'd heard about Castiel's little dream-walking incident with Dean, and no, he did *not* approve of the level of intimacy it implied between the reckless hunter and his youngest brother), he would know almost instantaneously.
Once he was done, he stepped back and admired his work - to him his mark shone plain as day, but sitting amidst Castiel's shielding runes on Sam's ribs it should be well hidden from those who weren't looking for it. The only one who might be able to see it easily was Castiel himself, and given his rather depressing lack of power these days Gabriel doubted he'd waste energy re-examining runes that were doing their job well enough.
Glancing over to the elder Winchester, Gabriel felt the overwhelming urge to do...*something*...anything, just to mess with him, just a little...but it was probably best if the brothers didn't know he'd visited, right?
With a huff of disappointment at his own restraint, Gabriel took off.
Gabriel cursed as something burned into his Grace sharply, causing him to drop the dog-beating piece of scum he'd been holding.
He sighed as the hellhounds in the pit below noticed the fresh meat - he'd only just started taunting the ass-hole, too. Talk about spoiling his fun!
Reaching to see what had startled him, Gabriel cursed again.
It was the Grace-ward - one of his brothers was near his hunter.
With a thought Gabriel was gone, the only sound remaining in the cave the ripping, crunching and growling of hell-hounds feasting happily.
He'd been expecting Zachariah, or maybe even Raphael...but then, he'd never been very lucky, had he?
Gabriel cursed - it was getting to be quite a habit whenever Winchesters were involved - when he saw Sam and Dean facing down *Lucifer*, with only a freaking **colt** for protection.
Oh, it was a mystical colt, *sure*...had these dunderheads forgotten just **who**, exactly, they were facing?
There wasn't a chance in Hell, Heaven, or any of a million other realms that that thing was powerful enough to stop his big brother.
At least it could've been worse, Gabriel mused.
Lucifer wasn't actually trying to charm his way into Sam's skin for a change, after all.
Nope. Instead, he was just going to blow both brothers to shreds for having *shot him in the fricking head*!
Did these humans have **no** sense of self-preservation?
Gabriel was on the verge of actually considering revealing himself and blowing nearly two thousand years of the best disappearing act *ever* to pull their asses out of his brother's homicidal path, when Castiel appeared suddenly behind them and an instant later all three of them were somewhere else.
With little more than a thought he obscured their trail so that his brother couldn't follow - either Castiel was getting sloppy, or he was falling faster than Gabriel had anticipated.
Shaking his head softly, Gabriel left. How in Dad's name had he gotten caught up in all of this again?
Anael had been the next to trip the ward.
She was self-righteous, she was cruel, she burned with hate and reeked of pride.
She'd chosen to fall, to live as human, and then had the gall to think she was entitled to go back? An Angel's power combined with human morals and self-importance - it was a dangerous combination.
Even with her Grace returned she was disconnected from her brethren still. Gabriel, for all that he had left, for all that he had hidden, was still connected where it counted. Even Castiel, falling fast, had something of that vital link remaining, and would right up until the last drop of Grace left him. The only Angels that shared Anael's disconnected state were those who had Fallen during the First War in Heaven.
He'd been so tempted to just squash her like a bug - he could've done it, easily, with less than a thought...
...except she'd gotten out of line, hadn't she? She wasn't a sheep, she wasn't just following Michael or Raphael or Zachariah's orders, wasn't trying to end the world...she was trying to stop the insanity. The phrase 'any port in a storm' sprung to mind...she might be dangerous, but as long as she was pointed at 'the other guys', and not him...
Well, he sort of respected all the trouble she was causing for his big brothers.
*If only* she hadn't decided the best way to cause that trouble was by killing Sam, he might have stepped in to help her when Michael showed up.
Gabriel bent double in pain, his hot chocolate falling from his hand and landing with a crash on the tiled floor.
His Grace was on *fire*.
He vaguely felt pressure on his left side, and thought distractedly that he must've fallen over...it wasn't important though, because every cell in his body burned as his Grace flared uncontrollably.
After a minute of huddled agony, Gabriel managed to dredge up the will to focus, to search through the pain and find its source.
It was the Grace-ward. Sam Winchester's Grace-ward.
Sam Winchester was currently surrounded by so much Grace, so much of the essence of the Angels that the ward's reaction had been damn-near nuclear!
Gabriel snapped down a seal over the ward, disconnecting it from him temporarily so that he could think for a minute, breathe again, get up and see what damage he'd done...
As his eyes fell on the ruined cafe, on the dead people all around him, he cursed whatever had set off the ward. He'd liked this place, these people...they hadn't deserved an end like this – hadn't deserved to be destroyed by the uncontrolled Grace of an Archangel.
Someone was going to pay for it.
Sam Winchester had been shot *dead*.
By two stupid, arrogant, foolish self-righteous hunters who thought they were, what, **better** than him?
Gabriel barely spared them a glance as they gaped dumbly at him. They were hunters - hadn't they ever seen someone appear out of thin air before? The fools didn't even register him as a potential threat.
They'd soon learn.
With a careless click of his fingers, the two living humans in the room disappeared.
Looking briefly over at Dean - Castiel would be *devastated* - Gabriel made his way over to Sam. Taking the dead man's hand he closed his eyes, and tried to track the hunter's soul.
What he found was simultaneously both very good and very bad (and completely explained the ward's...over-reaction - it had been millenia since he'd felt that much Grace energy at once, after all).
Sam was in Heaven.
The upside was that it meant Gabriel's *most* psychotic brother hadn't hi-jacked him, which had, admittedly, been Gabriel's first clear thought once the pain had receded.
It also meant that Sam was temporarily beyond Lucifer's reach, which was *never* going to be a bad thing.
The downside was that Sam was in *Heaven*.
A place that Gabriel **really** didn't want to go.
A place that was laughably easy for Gabriel's *oldest* psychotic brother and all of his troops to access if they wanted to get hold of Sam, and break him down...Gabriel didn't doubt that in Heaven his oldest brother had the means to *make* Sam say yes to Lucifer eventually, so that that he could have his showdown.
He settled into a chair near Sam's bed, watching over their bodies as he tracked Sam's soul through Heaven. If it became really necessary he would step in, but for now he'd see how things played out...
Joshua's sudden appearance had been a very welcome surprise - apparently not everyone Heaven-side had lost their marbles after all.
And even more surprising...apparently Dad wasn't as out of the game as everyone thought. He was just letting it play out as it would for now...
Gabriel smirked - he always had been his Father's son...
Gabriel had given up all illusions that he was *not* stalking Sam Winchester.
After the disaster with the ward a week ago Gabriel had decided to leave it capped off for now, and only rely on it again in an emergency.
Which meant that, for the last week, Gabriel had been quite literally stalking the younger Winchester - and by extension the oblivious and obviously in love with each other duo that was Dean and Castiel...seriously, how in Dad's name did Sam stand it? Gabriel was about ready to look them in a cupboard until they got a clue already, and he'd only had to watch it for a week.
Sam had far more will-power than people gave him credit for, holding out against the Devil and their love-struck brothers all at once!
The more he watched the brothers interact, the more worried Gabriel became - this was not the same Sam who had bitched and moaned at his brother when Gabriel had pranked them back when they'd first killed his Trickster alias. It wasn't the same heart-broken and damaged Sam who'd determinedly hunted him for six months to get his brother back when he'd been trying to teach him to be less dependent on Dean. It wasn't even the same Sam who'd challenged him and called him out in that warehouse a few months ago.
No, this Sam barely strung two words together.
This Sam didn't retaliate when his brother tried to provoke him.
This Sam feigned sleep until Dean wasn't watching and then went back to researching ways to stop Lucifer. He pushed food absently around his plate and struggled to keep down the few bites he actually did eat...
Something was very wrong with Sam Winchester, and judging by the growing worry in Dean's eyes, the other hunter had noticed despite his brother's efforts to keep him in the dark.
How long would it be, Gabriel wondered, before Dean's worry and frustration came to light?