Inspired by Lilo and Stitch.


It sounded painless.

So many of his brothers and sisters had done it. They had Fallen to earth and been reborn as men and women. They had lived, died and experienced everything in-between.

It wasn't painless to Fall.

Ripping his grace out, bit by bit, made Gabriel sick, but he kept going, threw out a little here and a little there, running as he went. There was nothing and everything around him, just the long stretching white clouds of Heaven, but soon someone would notice. Soon someone would follow him. Gabriel kept moving until he came to the edge of Heaven, the spot in the clouds high above humanity where the angels could watch over them.

He looked down on the human world and wondered if this was something he really wanted.

Behind him he could hear the approaching thunder of wings. Someone had noticed. They'd be here any minute. There was still a chance he could stay, could pretend that he'd just been taking a stroll close to the edge even though the mottled, torn out pieces of his grace would tell another story. Gabriel didn't have to leave.

The beat of the wings got closer. Gabriel could stay, but he didn't want to. There was nothing left for him in Heaven. He just wanted to have fun, have a good time and Heaven was anything but that.

Gabriel jumped.

He Fell, tumbling towards Earth but something went wrong in his Fall.

Not all of his grace was gone.

He landed with a bump on the roadside of some dusty, forgotten little town. This wasn't how it was supposed to go; it wasn't how it was supposed to be because Gabriel remembered. He wasn't supposed to remember anything. He was supposed to be human. He looked down at himself and saw not a human body but the paws of a dog, one part of his true angelic form.

"No," he said but the vowels became long, elongated till they were almost a howl. Everything Gabriel had Fallen for, everything he'd wanted and hoped was dashed and he didn't know what he'd done wrong.

He was still looking down at himself, bewildered and confused, when the car hit him.

Dean sighed.

He thumped his fist against the steering wheel of his car and stared up at the school building in front of him. This was his fourth call from the Principal in just the last month alone. People at his job were starting to notice. Dean was always rushing off, never there to finish the day or help with overtime. He couldn't. He had Sam to deal with.

There was no point in putting off what was coming. Dean could sit out in the impala for as long as he wanted but Sam was still going to be sitting in the Principal's office, waiting for him and the Principal would still be there, waiting to have a talk with Dean. He sighed again, opened the car door, climbed out and shut it behind him harder than he'd intended. Dean knew the way to the Principal's office off by heart. It used to be him being called in. He was the trouble maker, not Sam.

Things had been different since their dad died though.

Dean didn't go to school anymore and Sam got into trouble.

Dean nodded 'Hello' to the secretary as he passed her desk. She was old enough to be his mother and his heart wasn't in it, but he still smiled at her. She frowned back at him.

At first people had been sympathetic. It was such an awful thing to happen to them. Then, slowly, everyone else went back to normal and it was just Sam and Dean who were left changed. They stopped being pitiable and just became problems. That was what Sam was now, a problem child. Dean didn't think it was ever Sam who started the fights. Sam was just the odd one out, he was the moody quiet kid and it was easier to make things Sam's problem than try and put a stop to the school's bullying issue.

Dean knocked on the door to the Principal's office then let himself.

Sam was curled around himself in the flimsy plastic seat. He looked a wreck, his cheek swollen and red, his hair tugged all over the place. He had his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped protectively around himself. Dean almost wanted to tell him off because that wasn't any way to sit but Sam was watching him through narrowed eyes and Dean realised he'd been crying. He kept his mouth shut and sat down in a spare chair instead.

"I'm glad you could join us, Dean," the Principal said. Dean smiled, his teeth slightly gritted. It wasn't as if he had much choice in the matter.

"Your secretary said on the phone that Sam had been in a fight?"

"Yes. Sam had an altercation with some other boys. They say that he became enraged suddenly for no reason and…"

"That isn't true!" Sam interrupted. "That isn't true. They were making jokes about my dad. They were laughing at him, saying that he was drunk when…"

"Sam!" The Principal said sharply. "I know those boys. They'd never say things like that."

Dean sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Look, if Sam says that they said those things, then they said those things. My brother isn't a liar," he said.

The Principal looked at him coldly. "Even if they did make some references to your father, that didn't give Sam the right to resort to violence."

Dean chocked back a few choice words he had about hypocrisy. It didn't matter what Sam did or didn't do, it didn't matter what those boys had said. The Principal had already decided that Sam was the agitator, the trouble-maker. There would always be an excuse for why those other boys shouldn't be punished. There would never be an excuse for Sam.

"Yeah, well, what's the punishment this time? Detention again?" he asked.

"I'm afraid this time I have no choice but to suspend Sam for a week. We have a very strict policy regarding bullying," The Principal said, sitting up straighter in his chair.

"Bullying? You're calling Sam a bully?" Dean shook his head incredulously. Sam was the furthest thing from a bully. He was soft.

"This isn't the first time Sam's been called into my office for fighting," the Principal said evenly.

"Why don't you do something about the kids bullying him rather than punishing Sam?" Dean exclaimed angrily. He knew he was close to shouting now. The secretary wouldn't need to listen through the door to hear the argument going on inside.

"I will be looking into the situation, but Sam is still suspended," the Principal said, beginning to fidget with some of the files on his desk. Dean felt sick, realizing that it was probably Sam's permanent record he was fiddling with. It was going to be on Sam's record forever that he'd been suspended. Colleges were going to see that when Sam applied.

"Yeah, yeah," Dean stood up. "Come on Sam, we're leaving. We'll use this week productively and see if there's a better school for you."

Sam stood up miserably, reaching for his school bag and slinging it over his shoulder. Dean placed a hand on his shoulder, guiding him towards the door. He didn't want to stay a moment longer than he had to. It was humiliating for Sam and Dean just wanted to get him home where he could lick his wounds in peace. He opened the door, pushing Sam on ahead of him.

"Oh, and Dean," the Principal said, calling Dean's attention back. "I'm sorry to have to do this, but I've informed your social worker about Sam's problems with violent outbursts. I'm sure that they'll be able to offer you and Sam some support."

"Yeah, thanks," Dean muttered, shutting the door behind them with a heavy bang. Dean had been in plenty of fights before he'd dropped out and there'd never been a need to get a social worker involved. There'd never been a social worker till their dad died. Then he'd had a choice; let Sam go live in care and visit him occasionally or step up to the plate and take care of Sam. Dean had chosen to take care of his little brother and it felt like everyone else was determined to make sure he failed.

He hurried Sam out to the car, wanting them to get out of the school before Dean saw those little punk ass brats who'd been bullying Sam.

Sam would just get suspended for fighting. Dean they could arrest and then Sam really would be taken away from him.

"Get in the car," he said, shoving Sam on the shoulder. His brother glared at him reproachfully but opened the door and sunk into the passenger seat. Dean shut the door on him and leant against the car, trying to think of a way out of the problem Sam had created. He couldn't send Sam to another school. The only other ones around were private schools and Dean was never going to make enough money to pay the tuition to one of those, even if Sam would have been happier there.

Their dad had left them the house, the Impala which he hadn't been driving the night he crashed and a bank account that had just about covered his funeral expenses. Everything else had to come out of Dean's pocket now. He had to earn the money to keep food on the table and clothes on Sam's back. He had to prove to everyone that he was strong enough to take care of Sam.

Sam just didn't make it any easier.


Dean looked up then. He would have known that voice anywhere.

Castiel Novak, his best friend, was making his way across the car park to meet them. Dean didn't know where Cas had come from. If he remembered rightly then Cas should have been in the middle of chemistry. It was where Dean would have been, if things had been different.

"Hey, Cas," he said.

"I heard about Sam. Is he alright?" Castiel peered past Dean, into the car. Dean turned in time to see Sam drag the collar of his jacket up and turn away from them.

"No, Cas, he's not alright. He got suspended."

"But why?" Castiel asked.

"Because he was fighting," Dean said with a shrug.

"But Sam never starts those fights," Castiel said.

Dean tried not to smile. There was nothing to smile about. He just found it endearing that Castiel took Sam's side. Castiel was the only other person Dean knew who was in Sam's corner. It didn't do them any good though. Castiel was just a teenager, the same as Dean. He didn't have any of the clout they needed to make things better. All the adults, the people in power, they wanted to make life hard for them.

"Yeah, well, the principal doesn't see it that way. He called Sam's social worker," Dean said fiercely.

"You're not going to do anything rash, are you, Dean?" Castiel asked quietly.

Dean wondered what he meant by rash. Did he think Dean was going to go on the run with Sam? Or did he mean was Dean going to launch some revenge attack against the boys who were bullying Sam. There would have been a time where Dean would have beaten black and blue anybody who dared mess with his brother. He wanted to rip their lungs out and make them sorry they were ever born but Dean knew he couldn't do that. He'd had to do a lot of growing up, and fast, in the months after their father died. He understood that he couldn't just go with his first instinct, not without getting into serious trouble.

"No, Cas. I'm not going to do anything. I'm just going to take Sam home and try to figure out how to fix this god-damn mess."

Castiel's mouth set in a grim line. "I wish you would let me help you, Dean."

"How? You gonna give me all the money you saved in your piggy-bank?" Dean asked, his smile bitter.

He knew how Castiel wanted to help. Cas wanted to throw in school, his own education, to come and live with Dean and Sam. He had this great idea of how it would all work out – he and Dean would both have jobs, Sam would have the two of them looking after him, and Dean and Cas would have each other. It all sounded good on paper. There were days Dean was tempted, but it couldn't work. Cas would resent him eventually. He'd realise what a stupid idea it was, hitching his star to Dean's. Dean couldn't even think about dating now, not when he had Sam to worry about.

Sam was never going to be his kid. Sam was his little brother. Cas couldn't come over and play house and pretend Sam was their son because it was never going to work.

"Dean, I could…"

"Cas, will you give it a break, okay? I just can't deal with this today," Dean said. He put a hand on Castiel's shoulder and gently pushed him away. Castiel nodded, looking for a second as if his heart was breaking, but then he brightened.

"If you want, I can bring Sam the homework he'll miss on his week off. That way he won't fall behind. I can help him if he needs some help."

Dean couldn't really object to that. That was the problem with Castiel. He didn't know when to quit. Everyone else had turned their backs on them, had realised they were lost causes months ago, but not Castiel. He just kept going, kept chugging along like a determined little train, wanting to be part of Dean's life even when Dean had made it perfectly clear that they could never be more than friends.

It was both endearing and annoying.

"Yeah, you can do that," he said, and retuned Castiel's smile when Castiel smiled at him. He got into the car, waving half-heartedly at Castiel who waved back enthusiastically until Dean had pulled out of the parking lot and rolled out of the school gates.

Sam wiggled around in his seat, turning to look at Dean.

"You should invite Cas over," he said. "I don't care if you date him or not."

"Jesus, Sam, I don't have time. I've got two jobs and I've got you. Do you really think it's a good idea to screw up things with Cas? He's my friend and at the moment we both need a friend so I don't think I should mess things up, do you?"

"I don't think you'd mess things up," Sam said.

"Yeah, you'd know all about messing things up, wouldn't you Sam?" Dean muttered angrily.

"I didn't start those fights!" Sam objected shrilly.

"I don't care, Sam! No one cares who started them," Dean shouted. He glanced at Sam, not wanting to take his eyes off the road but needing to see that Sam understood the severity of the situation. "Do you want to get taken away?"

"No, but…"

"No buts, Sam! Behave or that's what's gonna happen. They'll take you away and put you with some other family and I'll see you once a month maybe, if we're both good and your foster parents allow it. Maybe they won't even let me see you if they think I did such a bad job looking after you. They'll say I'm unfit." Dean gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, feeling sick at the thought.

"But you're not!" Sam protested.

"I know that! We just have to play the system for a bit, Sam, till things settle down," Dean said, trying his best to sound soothing. He was trying as much to convince himself as Sam. Eventually things would settle down and the system would get off their back and life would get easier for them. It had to.

"But it's not fair," Sam said.

"I know it's not fair but life isn't fair, Sam. We've only got each other and we've got to make this work," Dean said.

"Are we going home?" Sam asked, confused, as they drove past the turning to their house.

"No, you're gonna deliver pizzas with me tonight. I'm not letting you out of my sight. Get my uniform out the back."

Just like clockwork, Cas was on the doorstep after school the next afternoon. Dean didn't have to be at work for another two hours and Sam took his homework and drifted into his bedroom, ignoring Castiel's suggestion that they work on it together. This left Dean and Castiel standing awkwardly in the kitchen together.

"I've been thinking," Castiel said after the pause had gone on long enough.

"Oh?" Dean tried to be nonchalant.

"About Sam and the issues he's having at school," Castiel continued.

Dean fought down a wave of disappointment that it hadn't been the two of them Cas was thinking of.

"Yeah, what did you come up with?" he asked.

"I think Sam needs a pet."

Dean stared at Castiel, not completely believing him because it was the last thing that would have crossed his mind. Then he shook his head.

"A pet?" he repeated incredulously. "Cas, those things cost money."

Money that Dean really didn't have. He was struggling to pay the bills as it was. He barely kept himself and Sam in food and clothes. Another mouth to feed would present yet another problem for them. Dean didn't think Castiel was talking about a goldfish or an ant farm or anything small and cheap like that.

"Yes, but you could adopt one from a shelter. A dog, I mean. I would be happy to pay the adoption fee and it would be a good outlet for Sam. The dog could be his friend, someone he could talk to when he can't talk to you, Dean," Castiel said.

"He can always talk to me," Dean said, offended.

"And he could take it for walks, which would help Sam get rid of his aggressive excess energy and it would give Sam a sense of responsibility," Castiel continued, as if he hadn't heard what Dean said.

Dean sighed, leaning back against the kitchen counter. He knew Sam loved dogs. Sam had always been on at their dad to get them a dog but it hadn't been something their dad would ever agree to. He didn't like pets. Getting a dog would draw a definite line between life with their dad and life without their dad.

Dean didn't even know if he liked dogs. He'd never wanted a pet. When he thought about dogs he just thought about teeth and claws. He'd always been secretly pleased when their dad put his foot down and told Sam to stop asking. He didn't have his dad there any longer to make the tough decisions and Dean had never been able to say no to Sam.

"And you really think this would help him?" he asked, still uncertain.

It felt wrong to him to even be thinking of bring a dog home. His dad would never have allowed it but his dad was dead. Dean knew that and he knew the house was theirs, his and Sam's, but it still felt as if he was disobeying the rules.

"Oh yes," Castiel said, nodding his head enthusiastically. "Studies have proven that pets have a calming influence."

"I guess I don't mind if he gets a dog, but it's not going in the car," Dean said. They could have a dog in the house but not one in the car. His dad would never have stood for a dog in the car; getting its hair everywhere and making everything smell of dog. If the dog stayed in the house, if it was Sam's dog, then Dean could accept that. He could tell himself he wasn't breaking his dad rules.

"I guess I'll ask Sam if he likes the idea," He said with a shrug. Castiel seemed pretty set on the idea and Dean knew that Sam would like it. It would be good for Sam to have something to focus on that wasn't his suspension. Dean pushed himself away from the counter, walked over to the kitchen door, opened it and yelled up the stairs. "Sam!"

There was a brief pause and then Sam's footsteps on the stairs, thumping and banging, before he arrived slightly breathlessly in the kitchen.


"Cas thinks you should have a dog. I wanted to know what you thought," Dean said casually, heading back to his place leaning against the countertop next to Castiel.

Sam's eyes lit up.

"Could I? Really? My own dog? Dean, really?" he babbled.

"Yeah, if you want it, but you have to take care of it," Dean said. There was no way they were getting a dog if Sam was only going to be bored of it in a month. Dean wasn't going to be the one saddled with the responsibility of looking after it. This was a dog for Sam and that meant Sam had to take care of it.

"Of course I want it!" Sam said excitedly. Dean rolled his eyes. Sam had managed to completely forget to agree that he was going to take care of the dog but Dean would remind him. He'd get Sam up in the mornings and make him take the stupid thing for a walk. Still, he was pleased to see Sam so happy about something for a change. He hadn't seen Sam smile like that in a long time.

"Great, I guess we'll head on down to the pound then and pick out a dog," Dean said. "Oh, and say thanks to Cas, it was his idea."

Dean would never have thought of getting a dog on his own. Sometimes Castiel had really good ideas. It was only when it came to relationships that Castiel got it badly wrong.

"Thanks, Cas!" Sam threw his arms around Castiel and hugged him tight. Castiel looked at Dean over the younger boy's shoulder, his arms rigid at his sides, looking surprised at the sudden outburst of affection. Then, slowly, he raised one hand and patted Sam on the back.

"I just thought it would be good for you," he said quietly, staring at Dean.

Dean had the feeling that Castiel meant it for both of them, not just Sam. If that was the case then Castiel's logic was flawed. Dean didn't even like dogs. He'd tolerate one for Sam, to help Sam with his problems but it was going to be Sam's dog. Sam would be the one who had to walk it, feed it and play with it. Dean wasn't going to have a single thing to do with it.

If he couldn't let Castiel close to him, Castiel who was his best friend, then what chance did some stinking dog have?

Gabriel woke up with a splitting headache.

He sat up, still woozy and tried to remember what had happened to him. He didn't think Michael or his followers had caught him. If they had then Gabriel thought he'd feel worse than he actually did. He might not have woken up at all if Michael had caught him. He didn't think Michael wanted to kill him, but he might have had to just to make a point. Gabriel was his beloved brother but Michael could still strike him down. He had done it once to Lucifer and Gabriel was certain he could do it again.

Seeing Michael kill another archangel could stop the others leaving. It would frighten them in to staying. But it seemed Michael hadn't caught him. Gabriel was still alive but, as he came to his senses, he realised he was in some sort of cage.

He growled, the noise coming out much louder and deeper than he'd intended.

Someone banged on the cage. "None of that," they said. Then a face appeared at the wire of the cage, looking down at him – a worried, disbelieving face. "Oh god, you're alive!"

Gabriel opened his mouth to retort but the face disappeared, footsteps echoing as whomever it was rushed down the corridor outside of his cage. "Number seven's alive! He's alive!"

Gabriel frowned.

It came back to him now, falling, and the sudden burst of headlights on him. He'd been hit by something, a car or a truck and obviously bought here, wherever here was. Not a hospital, that was for sure and it didn't look like any prison cell he could remember, although it had been a long time since he'd had a reason to visit Earth. It wasn't a morgue. It wasn't cold enough and people didn't put dead bodies in cages, they put them somewhere cold and dark to slow their decay.

Then, slowly, it came back to him, the reason he'd been sitting in the middle of the road. No, they wouldn't put him in the morgue, the hospital or a prison cell. He was lucky they hadn't thrown him into the ditch.

He sat down and let out a mournful howl, loud enough to rattle his cage and those around him.

Gabriel had Fallen and he'd gone to the dogs.

"What sort of dog do you think I should get? A big dog or a little dog?" Sam asked excitedly.

He'd been relegated to the back seat for the drive to the shelter, Castiel in the passenger seat since he was paying and Dean felt he'd earned the right to sit there. It wasn't because he liked having Cas beside him, so close that he could feel the warmth of the other young man, so close that if he wanted he could reach out and touch him. Dean didn't want to touch him. He gripped the steering wheel tightly in his fingers, gritting his teeth. He didn't want to touch.

"Whatever dog you get, you're the one who has to look after it, remember?" he said, glancing up into the rear view mirror. Sam smiled at him.

"I know, I'm looking forward to it."

Dean shook his head.

"Weird kid," he muttered.

It was the weekend. Dean only had his shift at the pizza parlour to worry about and that didn't start until half-past-five. That left them almost the whole day to visit the pound, look at the dogs and possibly bring one home. It was certainly a better option than trying to fit everything in on a weekday.

"Take the turning here," Castiel said, pointing to the left, his finger smudging the glass where he pressed up against it. Dean stared at those fingers and nearly missed the turning. Dean took the corner faster than he meant to, clipping the side of the curb as he did. There was an indignant squeak from the back seat as Sam's head hit the ceiling.


"Do you want a dog? Because I can turn this car around, you know?" Dean threatened.

They made it to the pound without any more distractions. Dean kept his eyes fixed firmly on the road, not on Castiel. He couldn't go there, no matter how much he wanted to. He had to look after Sam; he couldn't be the kind of boyfriend Castiel needed or the one he wanted. He needed someone who he could rant and rave to when things got too tough, a friend to lean on and have a beer with and someone who'd be an occasional booty call. That wouldn't be Cas. Not his beautiful, loving Cas. He couldn't do that to him.

Castiel wanted forever and Dean couldn't even promise tomorrow.

He pulled the car into the space nearest the front doors and turned off the engine. Sam was nearly bouncing in the back of the car, a tall, gangly, excited ball of nervous energy. Dean pocketed the keys and then half turned in his seat to look at Sam.

"We don't have to get a dog today," he said seriously. "Sam, if none of them are right then don't think we can't come back another time and look again. I don't want you picking the wrong dog because you think it has to be today or never again."

Sam nodded quickly. "Okay, but can we go in now?"

Dean sighed, rolling his eyes and opened his door, stepping out. Sam pushed the seat forward and scrambled out after him. He ran for the doors but Dean waited for Castiel to get out, shutting and locking the car before he started after him. He resisted the urge to throw his arm casually around Castiel's shoulder. It would have given him the wrong idea. Even as it was they walked too close together. Their hands brushed, fingers touching loosely, Castiel's reaching to grip his before Dean swung them away.

Sam was already at the reception desk, looking through a binder of potential dogs when they finally made it inside. Dean held the door open for Castiel to go in ahead of him, inhaling sharply when Castiel bushed against him. That was Castiel's problem. He didn't understand about personal space. He didn't understand that he shouldn't push Dean. Didn't he think that Dean got lonely? That Dean wasn't aware Castiel was offering himself up on a silver platter? Maybe Castiel didn't realise that he was being a tease or maybe he knew too well. Every time he brushed up against Dean, it weakened Dean's resolve just that little bit more.

He wouldn't take advantage of Castiel. He wouldn't. He just sometimes suspected Castiel wanted him to and that made it difficult.

Sam looked up and waved him over, grinning. "They've got so many dogs, Dean! There's an Alsatian. We could have a guard dog."

Dean thought about sharp teeth, a snarling mouth and shuddered.

"No aggressive dogs, Sam. Pick something a bit smaller."

"Some small dogs can be very aggressive," Castiel said softly, moving to look over the binder with Sam. "They have a Napoleon-complex."

Dean nodded. He didn't fancy being bitten by any type of dog, but he figured a small dog was likely to only draw blood while a large dog could do some more serious damage. He reminded himself that the dog was for Sam and that Sam liked them. He didn't see them as slobbering, dangerous things the way Dean did.

"It's got to live outside," he muttered. He'd build a kennel for it when he got home. They could keep it in the backyard and Sam could deal with it. That was still a compromise but it meant there wouldn't be a dog in the house and Dean wouldn't be breaking the rules.

"Can I go see the dogs?" Sam asked, looking hopefully at the volunteer behind the desk. She nodded, indicating the way to go. Sam disappeared through the double-doors, a cacophony of barking welcoming his arrival. Dean slumped down into the one of the chairs lining the wall of the reception, sighing. A second later Castiel settled next to him. Two more seconds and the volunteer joined them.

"You know, a dog is a very big commitment," she said softly. "It's not something you should take on if you don't think you can handle it."

"It's Sam's dog," Dean said sullenly. "Sam's the one who's going to take care of it."

"You're both very young; a dog is a serious responsibility."

"Lady, I'm all Sam has in the world," Dean said, pushing himself up so he was sitting up straight in the chair. "Don't talk to me about responsibility, I know about responsibility. I'm looking after him and Sam's going to look after this dog."

"Their dad died," Castiel helpfully supplied. Dean shot him an angry look but the volunteer looked at Dean sympathetically.

"Lots of people adopt dogs when they lose someone close to them," she said. "A dog can really help if you're grieving."

"I told you, it's Sam's dog," Dean said again. He tightened his hand into a fist and dug his nails into his palm. He wasn't grieving. He didn't have time to grieve.

Just then the double doors burst open again and Sam came running through them, a big bundle of golden fur in his arms. "This is the one I want, Dean! This is the one!"

"Sam, I don't think you're supposed to pick the dogs up," Castiel said nervously.

"It's okay! He's coming home with us," Sam said excitedly. "He's a golden retriever, Dean. They're really great dogs. I read all about them. They're excellent family dogs and they're really smart, they can even be trained to be guide dogs."

The volunteer was up and out of her seat, taking a worried step towards Sam.

"Yes, that's true, but that dog only came in this morning. He's not been assessed yet, he's not available for adoption." She watched Sam and the dog warily. "You should be careful with him; he was hit by a car. We have no idea if he has broken bones. In all honesty, we weren't expecting him to live through the night."

"I think he's fine," Sam said. He looked down at the dog who licked his chin. "You're fine, aren't you, boy? He was wagging his tail and jumping up when I went in. He's really friendly." As if to prove this the dog continued to lick Sam's face, his tail wagging so much he almost wagged his way out of Sam's arms.

"Sam, put the dog down," Dean said. Sam might think the dog was friendly but its teeth were close to his throat and Dean didn't trust the strange dog.

"He's not dangerous!" Sam protested but he still carefully set the dog on the ground. He straightened back up and the dog jumped on to his hind legs, front paws pressing against Sam, trying to climb back into his arms. "Look! He's such a softie!" Sam ruffled the dog's shaggy head affectionately.

"He does seem to have to taken a shine to you," the volunteer agreed cautiously.

"Please, please can I have him?" Sam asked, crouching down to get closer to the dog which licked his face again.

"If our vet gives him a check over," the volunteer agreed, still sounding a little doubtful.

Dean shrugged.

"What do you think, Cas?" he asked, turning to look at Castiel who was staring at the dog in something akin to horror. Dean didn't think Castiel had any of the same dog-related reservations that he did. Cas had been the one suggesting they come down to the pound to get Sam a dog in the first place. "Cas?" he asked again, wondering just what was going on.

Castiel glanced at him then back to Sam and the dog. Finally he sighed, coming to some conclusion that Dean wasn't privy to.

"If that's the dog Sam wants, then I think he should have it," he said, although he didn't look happy about it.

"What the hell, Cas?" Dean hissed, confused by the sudden negativity, but Sam was babbling on about adoption papers and names for the dog and where it would sleep.

"I'm going to call him something awesome!"

"How about you let Cas name him?" Dean suggested, the idea coming to him in a flash. It had been Castiel's idea to get the dog. It was Castiel who was paying the adoption fee for them. It seemed fair to Dean for Castiel to pick the name.

"But Dean! It's my dog!" Sam whined.

"And you wouldn't have him without Cas,"

Castiel crouched down on the ground, staring hard at the dog who stared hard back at him, his whole body rigid. Slowly, Castiel nodded.

"I think his name should be Gabriel," he said. The dog barked happily and wagged his tail.

"Gabriel?" Sam raised an eyebrow. "That's not a cool name."

"He likes it," Castiel said.

"Fine, I'm gonna call him Gabe then."

The dog thumped his tail against the floor, evidently more than pleased with the nickname. Sam grinned, stroking his head. "See, Dean, I told you he's smart."

They had to wait for the vet, who announced there to be no obvious or external signs of injury. He suggested an x-ray under anaesthetic to make sure there was nothing internally wrong with the dog, but that would have meant Gabriel staying in for the next few days and Sam wanted to go home with him that day. Gabriel didn't seem at all unwell, jumping on and off the examination table and spinning round chasing his tail on the floor. The vet agreed it was unlikely that Gabriel had suffered any internal injuries given his energy and exuberance but still suggested keeping an eye on him and bringing him back if his condition went downhill.

Castiel duly paid the adoption fee and then bought Gabriel a collar and leash. When Sam tried to put it on him Gabriel resisted, skipping away and barking playfully, turning it in to a game until Castiel cornered him and restrained him long enough for Dean to slip the collar on. Gabriel looked up at them both with big brown eyes, making Dean feel unreasonably guilty about doing something that was really for Gabriel's own good in the long run. They couldn't have him darting off in to traffic or getting picked up as a stray. He needed a collar and leash.

"Right," he said gruffly, handing the leash to Sam. "He's your dog, your responsibility."

Sam beamed at him.

They went out to the car and Dean grabbed a spare jacket from the trunk for the dog to sit on.

"This is the last time he's coming in the car," he said, frowning at Gabriel who settled down, half in Sam's lap, half on the jacket. He desperately hoped that the dog didn't end up car sick or start scrabbling around when the engine was turned on. The last thing he needed was long claw marks in the leather. When the car started though, the dog only raised his head, snorted and then settled back with his head on Sam's lap.

The drive home was silent. Dean kept waiting for the dog to do something, kept checking the mirror to make sure he was still sitting still but every time he checked, the dog appeared to be asleep. When they reached the house, the dog began to whine, waiting to be let out. As soon as Dean was out of the car, the dog was too but Sam kept hold of his leash and he was only able to bounce a few meters before stopping.

"Right," Dean said, looking down at Sam and the dog. "I better start working on a kennel for him."

"A kennel?" Sam looked surprised. "But I thought I'd have Gabe in with me."

"He's a dog, Sam. He needs to be outside."

"I'll walk him, Dean! But he's my dog you said so I think I should be the one to choose where he sleeps."

"Fine," Dean said angrily. He didn't want to fight with Sam. Things were hard enough without them making it even harder for each other. "But if there are any little accidents then you clean them up."

"I'm sure he's house broken!" Sam said happily, pulling Gabriel with him towards the house.

"He'd better be!" Dean shouted after them. He sighed, leaning against the car. Castiel leant next to him and Dean shot him a look, wondering what Castiel's issue had been back in the pound. He shifted a little, staring at Castiel, trying to work it out just from body language but Castiel was all boxed up and closed off. Dean licked his lips. "Why did you choose the name Gabriel?" he asked.

Castiel glanced at him, a soft smile coming to his lips. "Because that's his name."

Dean stared at him, unable to work out if Castiel was joking or not. "So you were psychically divining this were you? When you spent all that time on your knees looking at him?"

"Something like that," Castiel said offhandedly.

Dean shook his head. He didn't feel like trying to work out Castiel's cryptic clues today. He'd already agreed to share his house with a dog. He was feeling tense and uneasy and he didn't want to be lead down a path where he stared too hard at Castiel and got lost in the unfathomable depths. Sometimes he thought he knew everything about Castiel and other times he suspected he didn't know him at all. Today, he felt like Castiel was a complete mystery.

"Come on, get in the house," he said, placing a hand on Castiel's shoulder and guiding him towards the house. Sam was in the kitchen, going through the cupboards, the dog sat expectantly at his side. The leash was sitting on the kitchen counter.

"We haven't got anything to feed him!" he complained as he heard the door open.

"Sure we do," Dean said, pointing to another of the cupboards. "There's a can of tuna up there, he can eat that, can't he?"

"Dean! He's a dog, he's supposed to have dog food!"

"We don't have any dog food, Sam," Dean said with a sigh, "I'm sure he can live on tuna for a while."

"I can watch Gabriel if you want," Castiel volunteered, "If you want to pick up dog food."

Gabriel whined low at the mention of 'dog food' but Sam beamed. "Can we?"

Dean sighed. "Sure, why not? Just the store brand stuff, Sammy. I can't afford anything else."

"If I eat store brand cereal can he have a better brand?"

"You already eat the store brand, Sam," Dean said. He ushered him out the door, glancing back once to look at Cas and the dog before he shut the door behind them. Castiel waited patiently, listening for the car starting up. Then he turned to look at dog.

"I know what you are," he said.

If a dog could grin then this dog was grinning. It stretched out, tail wagging.

"And I know what you are," Gabriel said. The words were rough, inhuman but still words. Castiel shuddered. Dogs shouldn't talk, not in English at any rate. That was something he felt on a fundamental level. "But he doesn't know, does he? Dean?" Gabriel continued, eyeing him speculatively.

"It's hardly the sort of thing you bring up in everyday conversation."

"Yeah, I can see how he might be surprised to find out his boyfriend is actually an angel."

Castiel blushed. "Dean is not my boyfriend."

"But you want him to be, don't you? Did you fall for him? I never even noticed you'd gone missing."

The words didn't hurt. Castiel thought they were supposed to sting but he hadn't expected to be missed. He was a very forgettable angel. One of the millions. It had been one of the things he'd counted on. He wanted to go unnoticed as he slipped away and followed Dean's soul to Earth. He remembered everything even if he was technically human. He certainly remembered Gabriel and the trouble he'd been.

"Why are you a dog?" he asked bluntly.

Gabriel looked as ashamed as a dog could look. "Something went wrong."

"You were trying to Fall?" Castiel guessed.

"Well, I didn't want to stay in Haven," Gabriel turned around; tail tucked between his legs and skulked off. "I didn't like Michael's way of organising things."

"No, I wouldn't think you would like it," Castiel said.

"You wouldn't understand. You Fell because of a human," Gabriel rolled his eyes, the gesture indicative of exactly how he felt on the subject of angel-human romances.

"Our father did tell us to love them," Castiel said as innocently as he could manage.

Gabriel cast him a disparaging look. "Not the way you want to love them, Castiel."

"Just what are your plans for the Winchesters?" Castiel asked, not wanting to be drawn into Gabriel's game of trading insults. "Sam and Dean are very fragile. Their father died a few months ago. They don't need any difficulties now."

Gabriel tried to shrug his shoulders and then gave up. "I haven't got any plans for the Winchesters. I was just desperate to get out of that kennel. I didn't realise they were your personal humans."

"Gabriel, I mean it. They are precious to me and I won't let you hurt them."

"I have no intention of hurting them, Castiel. I'm getting on the road as soon as I can. I don't want to be a dog and I don't want to play happy families with you and your Winchester boys. I'm going to fix myself and get out of your hair," Gabriel said. He wagged his tail happily.

Castiel swallowed. It wasn't Gabriel's fault that he'd been in that kennel but he had been the one who'd jumped into Sam's arms and straight in to his heart. Sam thought he'd brought home a friendly, kindly dog, a dog that Sam had always wanted. Castiel didn't know how Sam would take it when his new pet dog vanished. Sam was already volatile and Castiel didn't know if that would be the straw that broke the camel's back.

"Pretend to be sick," he said.


"Pretend to be sick, make them take you back. Make Sam choose another dog."

Gabriel narrowed his eyes. "Why don't you just open the door and let me on my merry way?"

"Because Sam really wants a dog and if you run away it will break his heart."

"Not my problem," Gabriel said, opening his mouth wide in a yawn. "I'm not a dog, I'm an archangel."

"Have you tried changing your form?" Castiel asked. He didn't want Gabriel to leave, not because he particularly wanted him around but because he didn't want to be the one responsible for Sam's dog disappearing. He could hardly explain the truth to Sam and Dean. They'd always think it was Castiel's fault that the dog had gone. They'd think he'd been careless and left a door open or done something else that he shouldn't have.

"I'm stuck," Gabriel said, eyes darting away from Castiel, obviously embarrassed. "But I'm sure it's only temporary. You managed to end up human shaped so I'm sure it can't be that hard."

Castiel opened his mouth to say something, but the sound of the car pulling into the drive stopped him. He frowned, fixing Gabriel with his most disapproving look "Don't do anything strange around them. Don't talk. You're just supposed to be a normal dog."

"Whatever," Gabriel said. "I'm out of here as soon as I get the chance."

"You said," Castiel muttered. The front door opened then, Sam calling out that they were home. A few moments later he was in the kitchen, carrying two big bags of value kibble, one under each arm. He put them down on the floor and smiled at Gabriel.

"I got you a bowl too," he said. Gabriel wagged his tail. "Do you want some food right now?" He tore one of the bags open then shouted over his shoulder. "Dean? You've got his bowl!"

Dean, arms full of two plastic bags filled with dog toys and other things that had caught Sam's eye, pushed the kitchen door open, setting them down on the counter. He dug through the first bag, pulled out a bright yellow plastic bowl and sliding it across the table to Sam. "We've spent a fortune on this stupid dog."

Sam caught the bowl in one hand, grinning. "It was all cheap stuff, you said." He carefully tipped a little of the kibble into the yellow bowl then set it on the floor for Gabriel. "There you go!"

Gabriel cautiously sniffed at the bowl and then shook his head, turning away and kicking the bowl with his back leg.

"Not hungry?" Sam asked, frowning. "Or don't like it?"

"It doesn't matter if he likes it or not, he's going to have to learn to like it," Dean said irritably. "We can't afford anything else."

"Okay, well, maybe he'll eat it later," Sam said with a little shrug. He reached out, stroking the dog's head.

That night, Gabriel climbed the stairs, his stomach growling. He had never felt hungry before but now he felt it. Even the dry, tasteless dog kibble in the bowl downstairs was starting to look like a good possibility. Still, he was playing faithful dog and following Sam around, hoping that Sam might give him something else to eat aside from dog food. He'd nosed a few of the lower cupboard doors open, just to see if there was anything he could get for himself at ground level but everything seemed to be in tins. That or in uncooked packets of pasta or rice. There didn't seem to be a single fresh thing in the house.

He followed Sam on to the landing. Sam paused for a moment, pointing towards the first door. "That's Dean's room, don't go in there. He's not really a dog person." He pointed to another door at the end of the landing. "And that's dad's room. Don't go in there either. We don't go in there since he...Dean just wants it kept the way it is."

Gabriel tilted his head to one side. Castiel had said that they'd lost their father recently. Gabriel wondered where his soul had gone. Hopefully to heaven. He wondered if that would make Sam feel better about things, to know his father was happy in eternal peace. It sounded comforting. He opened his mouth then remembered that he was a dog and Sam would probably be too disturbed by a talking dog to listen to message of life after death that he was bringing him. It wasn't fair that Gabriel was stuck as a dog. He was the messenger. He was supposed to bring tidings of comfort and joy and he couldn't do that when he couldn't talk. He shut his mouth, whimpering softly and nudged Sam's hand with his nose.

Sam looked down at him, smiling sadly. "Good boy," he said. He pointed to the door half-way along the landing. "That's my room. You can go in there whenever you want, even when I'm at school." He pushed the door open, letting Gabriel in before him. "Dean wants you to stay off the furniture but you can go on the bed. I don't mind."

The room was spotless. Nothing on the floor, the desk in the corner tidy. Not the normal sort of teenage boy's bedroom. The bed was made, tucked in neatly at the corners. Sam sat down on it, patting the space beside him. "Dad was in the marines. He didn't like a lot of mess."

Gabriel jumped up on the bed beside him, settling next to Sam. He didn't want to hear about Sam's father. He didn't want to hear about Sam or Dean, or their lives. He didn't want to get involved. He wanted someone to leave a door or window open so he could get out. He hadn't wanted to Fall just to end up stuck in some hick town with two teenagers. He'd wanted to go to Vegas or somewhere exciting, somewhere where teenagers and their problems weren't allowed.

Sam reached out, rubbing the top of his head and Gabriel had to admit that was soothing. Humans were very tactile. That was something he'd been looking forward to with taking on a human form. It was different being a dog. Even so, he settled down, laying his head in Sam's lap and closing his eyes as Sam scratched behind his ear.

"I'm glad Dean said I could get you," Sam said. Gabriel opened one eye, quietly wishing Sam would stop talking and just keep scratching. "I don't know what Castiel said to him, but Cas is pretty good at convincing Dean to do things. I just wish he could get Dean to go out with him. They'd both be happier and then Dean could stop worrying about me all the time."

Gabriel thumped his tail on the bed, figuring that was enough to signify agreement. Personally, he didn't care one way or the other. Castiel had never been one of the angels he was close to. He'd been too lower down in the hierarchy. Castiel had been just another grunt. Gabriel had been an archangel. They'd flown in completely different circles.

"I wish Dean would back off in general," Sam continued and Gabriel sighed. He wasn't going to get a chance to rest uninterrupted it seemed. Still, listening to Sam was better than concentrating on the rumbling of his stomach. "I keep getting into fights at school but they're not my fault. Dean's always telling me how they're going to take me away if I keep fighting but he doesn't understand. He dropped out of school. He's not there anymore, he doesn't understand what people are saying, what they're doing." Sam's voice faltered and Gabriel opened his eyes, looking up at him. The boy looked close to tears.

"I don't want to go into foster care and I know Dean's trying, but it's hard. He won't take any help. I think he's scared if he can't do everything on his own then the social services will take me in. He won't let Cas help even though he wants to, and Dean won't talk about what's happening. He just tells me not to get into fights but I never start them! If it was up to me there wouldn't be any fights."

Gabriel raised his head. Sam looked so angry, his brow furrowed, his hands clenched as he tried to make sense of it. Gabriel wondered if Sam was just too easy a target, a big sensitive boy who was too easy to rile up. Some people just walked around life with an invisible sign that said 'kick me' on their back and Sam Winchester might be one of those people.

"Dean won't even talk to me about dad; he shuts up every time I try. He won't even go to the grave with me. I think he thinks I should be over it now but it was only a few months ago and Dean's trying so hard but I want him to be my big brother, I don't want him to be dad."

Sam's eyes were shut now, every inch of him radiating with misery. He was too open, too vulnerable. He was the perfect target. Despite himself, Gabriel inched forward and nudged Sam's hand. He wondered if Sam even had any friends he could talk to? He didn't seem like a bad kid, just one who hadn't learned to keep his guard up yet. He wasn't cynical or angry like his brother, just bewildered by the fact that someone saw a person in pain and then decided to kick him when he was down. There was still innocence about him and Gabriel despite himself and despite his plans to get away as soon as the opportunity present itself, found himself warming to Sam Winchester.

"I'm suspended from school now," Sam said quietly. "Suspended for a week. It's okay now I have you, I can take you for walks and it's like a week off to get you settled." He smiled at Gabriel, ruffling his ears and Gabriel tried not to feel as if he was going to break Sam's heart when he finally left. Castiel had warned him but Gabriel hadn't realised before just how needy Sam was. He was crying out for someone who was there just for him – a friend.

Gabriel closed his eyes, sighing to himself. He wanted to dislike Sam, to blame Sam for the problems he was having, to tell Sam that he needed to toughen up because life was like this. People died, family left and fell apart. That was the way things worked and Sam could learn that now and save himself a lot of pain later on but Gabriel didn't want him to learn. He didn't dislike Sam, no matter how naive he thought he was. Sam wasn't a bad kid and he'd been dealt a rotten hand in life.

He'd stay for the night, Gabriel decided. He'd sleep here at the foot of the bed and let Sam enjoy having a dog. Sam said he was suspended for a week and Gabriel could wait a week. He'd have to get something better to eat then dog kibble, but a week would go in the blink of an eye. He'd give Sam a week but then he was gone.

He silenced the nagging, annoying voice in the back of his head that said it might be worse to give Sam the thing he wanted – a dog of his own – and then take it away. Sam was happy now. He could be sad later. There was always time for being sad later. Sam deserved at least one good week and maybe Gabriel could give him that. He wasn't a normal dog after all, he was an archangel.

Gabriel had managed to get a bowl of cereal from Sam by begging, something he wasn't proud of but it still saved him from having to eat that kibble. Sam had dutifully poured the kibble back into the open bag, washed out the bowl before filling it with cereal but there was the promise that sooner or later Gabriel was going to have to eat the kibble that had been bought for him. Gabriel just wanted to make sure it was later or better still, never.

Dean had turned up somewhere in the middle of it, sneered at the dog eating cereal, downed a cup of coffee and headed off to work. Before he left he told Sam to stay out of trouble and reminded him that he couldn't afford to take time off. Sam had to keep himself occupied so he didn't show up on someone's radar as an unattended minor. Gabriel rolled his eyes and crunched away as Sam promised to stay out of trouble, his mouth pursed up tight and unhappy. Once Dean was gone, he and Sam ate in silence.

Gabriel was glad his mouth was full because there were a lot of things he wanted to say to Dean or about Dean, but filling his stomach proved to be a good distraction.

After breakfast, Sam worked on homework. Gabriel watched him for five minutes before it became too boring too continue. He found out how to turn the television on with a paw instead and curled up on the couch, dozing his way though a cooking program while Sam tacked algebra. Lunch for Sam was a sandwich and half a sandwich for Gabriel.

That afternoon they went for a walk. Gabriel resisted the leash for as long as possible, running circles around Sam, yapping and trying to persuade Sam in a non-verbal way that he was a 'good dog' and didn't need a lead. That failed to work. Gabriel tried staring at him, tried to put the thoughts into Sam's mind but that failed as well. He ended up on the leash, trailing behind Sam and privately pleased that Castiel was in school and didn't have the opportunity to see his shame. It had been bad enough once, Gabriel didn't want the experience repeated.

Sam took him through the town, point out the two places Dean worked - one, a crummy garage and the other a pizza parlour. To Gabriel's disappointment they didn't stop for pizza. They passed the police station where someone called Jody worked. They passed the library and the market, the gas station and a few other little family-owned shops. Gabriel felt he was giving the place airs by calling it a town. It was more like a street with a line of shops on it. All roads lead away from it, into what could be laughingly called the suburbs where the houses were, or out of the town and towards the rest of the world.

Gabriel sniffed, smelling the wind that rolled in from the road and wished he was going that way, towards the highway and towards everything he'd planned. His real life, the one he wanted, was waiting for him out there. He could have slipped his collar, he could have started to run but he didn't. He'd told himself he'd stick it out for a week and he kept his promises.

They turned away from the tantalising promise of freedom and wandered away, down a dusty old track. It took them over hills and down dips, along the most abandoned track Gabriel thought he'd ever seen. Sam stopped them, unclipping Gabriel's lead.

"You can have a run now, there are no cars around here," he said.

Gabriel took the opportunity, scampering in front of Sam, stretching his legs and enjoying the moment. Slowly the track came level with a little stream and Gabriel celebrated by jumping in it, rolling around then running up to Sam to shake himself off. Sam found a stick and Gabriel gracefully agreed to lower himself enough to chase it. The sun was high in the sky and it was hot. After ten minutes Sam was too hot to keep playing fetch.

He sat down by the side of the stream, unlacing his shoes and pulling off his socks, dipping his toes in to the cool water and leaning back, basking in the sunshine. Gabriel settled down beside him, chewing the hell out of the stick. It was mindlessly destructive and lots of fun. If their week consisted of lazy afternoons, romping together in the sun, then Gabriel thought he could come to like it. The only sound was the rushing of the stream, the rustle of the wind, Sam's gentle breathing and the cracking noise of the branch breaking. It was relaxing. Time slipped by unheeded.

Then, suddenly, the peace was broken. Gabriel perked his ears up, looking round at the same time Sam did. There were voices, laughter, of people coming along the path further along. Sam grabbed for his shoes, slipping them back on over his wet feet, not even bothering to try and put his socks back on, shoving them in his pocket. He laced them loosely, getting to his feet and grabbing Gabriel's lead.

"Here boy," he said, his voice low, almost a whisper. "Come on, Gabe."

Gabriel cocked his head to one side. He didn't understand why Sam was so eager to leave. The tranquillity was broken, but it was probably just people passing by, they didn't need to go. He sat still, wagging his tail, waiting for Sam to settle down.

Sam glanced around, looking nervous and then reached for Gabriel's collar, trying to drag him away. "Come on, Gabe," he said again, dragging Gabriel behind him. "We need to go."

"Hey, Winchester!"

Gabriel turned his head, looking in the direction of the person calling Sam's name. There were four boys standing on the path. They had backpacks and had obviously come straight from school. Gabriel looked back up at Sam. He was rigid, his whole body tensed. It was primal, the look of fear in his eyes. Sam was the prey and the boys on the track were predators. Sam was trying to decide if he should run or stand and fight.

Gabriel whined softly, wishing he'd gone with Sam when Sam was trying to make him. Sam didn't like these boys, was afraid of them and Gabriel didn't like that. These must be the bullies Sam had told him about, the ones who'd got him suspended.

"Hey, Winchester, I'm talking to you!" one of the boys shouted, the one Gabriel identified as the leader.

"I'm just leaving," Sam said quietly, tugging at Gabriel again.

"Why weren't you in school today, Winchester? You playing hooky with your dog?"

Sam hunched his shoulders. "You know why I wasn't in school. I've been suspended."

The boy smiled, a nasty smile that Gabriel didn't like the look of one bit. He was a good head shorter than Sam but Gabriel didn't think that mattered. He had three friends to back him up, Sam was just Sam on his own.

"Suspended is good," the boy drawled. "But I think expelled would be better."

"I'm going home," Sam said, turning away from them, no longer needing to pull Gabriel who trotted with him willingly, eager to put as much distance between them as possible.

"I'm talking to you," the boy shouted after them, then Gabriel heard a thump of backpacks being dropped. Sam started running, Gabriel hard on his heels, but the boys were running after them. One of them grabbed Gabriel's tail and he yelped, turning round angrily. Sam whirled round, his eyes wide.

"Get off my dog!"

A second later he was tackled to the ground. Two of the boy's pinned him by his arms to the ground, holding him trapped as the leader leant over him.

"Let me go, Gordon. You got me suspended, isn't that enough?"

"No," the boy – Gordon – said. Gabriel looked at him and he knew it wouldn't be enough. He could see straight into the other boy's mind, he could see his soul and right now all Gordon Walker was thinking about was how much he hated Sam. It was mindless, violent, unprovoked hatred. There was no rhyme or reason to it, no one instance that had grown into a long standing animosity. Walker simply hated Sam for being Sam.

Gabriel growled, low and threatening, his ears flattening down against his head. He surged forward, ready to bite Walker and the boy's holding Sam down but he was grabbed from behind, the forth boy holding on to his collar, pulling it so tight that Gabriel started to choke. He sunk to the ground, gasping for breath, the boy sitting on his back.

"Don't hurt him," Sam gasped.

"Not much of a dog, is he?" The boy pinning Gabriel down said. "He's a runt. All bark and no bite."

"Leave him alone, Walker!" Sam struggled harder, freeing an arm and punching out uselessly. His fist sailed through the air, missing his target by miles. He kept struggling though, kicking his legs, smacking at Walker. The boy grabbed his legs, snarling.

"Grab hold of him!" he shouted. "We're gonna throw him in the stream."

Sam shouted, for them to stop, for Dean, for someone to hear him and come rescue him. He struggled, contorting and twisting but it was only a short gap between the track and the stream. The boys carried him to the water, swung him once, twice then let go, throwing Sam into the stream. Gabriel barked, frightened. Sam hit the water with a splash, seconds ticked by and he didn't surface. There was no gasping for breath, no head breaking the water, nothing. Then something happened, Sam bobbed to the surface, face down in the water.

"Shit," Walker swore. "We got to get out of here, leave the dog."

He ran back along the path, grabbing his discarded bag and then kept running. The other boys followed him, Gabriel jumping to his feet the moment he was free from the weight on his back. Not one of the boys paused for a moment, none of them seemed to think about helping Sam. Gabriel knew what they were thinking, he could read the as clear as a book, he didn't need to look inside their minds to know. They were all worried about being caught, about getting into trouble. They wanted to be far away from the scene of the crime as possible.

Gabriel rushed to the edge of the stream, pacing back and forth nervously, waiting for Sam to move, to prove that this was some double-bluff he was playing to get his bullies off his back but Sam didn't move. Gabriel barked and he still he was motionless in the water save for the ebb and flow of the water, pushing him up and further downstream.

Despite all of the shouting and scuffling no one was coming. Sam could drown, Gabriel realised. He could drown out here alone. Gabriel took a step back and then leapt into the water. He surfaced quickly, paddling towards Sam. He gripped Sam's arm in his mouth, careful and tight, and began to tug him towards the river bank. It couldn't have taken more than a few seconds but for Gabriel it seemed an eternity, as if he was swimming through molasses and every stroke was harder than the one before it.

He dragged some up on to the bank and then nudged him over on to his back. Sam's face was pale, a nasty gash along his forehead. He must have hit his head on a rock, hidden and unseen under the water, when he was thrown in. Gabriel whined, bumping his nose against Sam's cheek, praying for him to open his eyes, to do something. Sam was still breathing at least, his chest rose and fell but his breathing was faint.

Gabriel wished desperately that he wasn't a dog. If he was in a human vessel then he could have done mouth to mouth or something. He settled at Sam's side, curling around him and trying to keep him warm.

"Come on, Sam," he muttered. "Wake up."

He knew what he'd promised Castiel, about not talking, but he didn't think Castiel had ever envisaged something like this happening. If the sound of his voice did some good, brought Sam back to him, then Gabriel would keep talking till he went hoarse.

Sam's eyes flickered. He coughed and Gabriel nudged him again, whining low. Even if Sam was awake now, he could have a concussion.

"I'm okay, I'm okay," Sam gasped but he didn't sound okay. Gabriel licked his cheek, worrying about what to do. It was unlikely anyone was going to find them, not if they hadn't come when Sam was screaming. It didn't seem as if the track was a regular walk for most people. Gabriel didn't really want Sam standing up but heading back to town seemed like their only chance of getting Sam the help he needed.

Gabriel got to his feet, tugging gently on Sam's t-shirt, trying to pull Sam up with him. Sam sat up slowly, bringing one hand up to his head, wincing. He squinted at Gabriel.

"You pulled me out of the river," he said slowly. "You saved my life."

Gabriel wagged his tail.

"I need to get to Dean," Sam said, closing his eyes again. Gabriel whimpered, worried Sam was going to pass out but it seemed Sam only wanted a moment to collect himself. He got to his feet unsteadily, holding on to Gabriel and, with Gabriel leading the way, pressed up against Sam's side to support him, the made a slow, painful progress back towards the town.

Gabriel was surprised no one stopped them, that no one offered to help. They passed people in the street, on their way to the garage where Dean would be coming to the end of his first shift. They passed people and those people stopped and stared at them but they didn't do anything. Gabriel wondered if they thought Sam was a trouble-maker, if the town was small enough that everyone knew he'd been suspended and so when they saw him hurt they didn't want to help him, thought he'd brought it on himself.

Or was it that underneath all the caring, sharing, enlightened ideas they were supposed to have, people were still superstitious. Sam's father had died. The family, it seemed, were tainted with bad luck. People didn't want to get involved because they feared bringing the bad luck on themselves. It was the same old superstition it had always been, although now instead of witches and the evil influence, people were worried about social workers or caring community officers that might decide anyone helping the Winchester's needed a closer examination.

Sam and Dean had lost more than their father. They'd lost the support of the town they'd grown up in. People feared different. They didn't like it. If it stayed different, if it didn't assimilate, didn't become what they wanted then they turned their back on it.

After what seemed like an eternity of sad, worried faces and people who crossed the street or ducked in to doorways to avoid them, they reached the garage. Sam pushed the door open, the little bell overhead tinkling as he did. There was a reception desk but no one was manning it. There were chairs though and Gabriel guided Sam towards them, pushing his head against Sam's knee until Sam gave in and sat down with a heavy sigh. They were waiting only a minute or so until the door at behind the reception desk opened and Dean let himself in.

"We're a bit backed up at the moment," he said, wiping his hands on a rag, not bothering to look up at who was waiting for him. "I'll get to you as soon as I can."

Gabriel barked and Dean looked up, his eyes widening and a second later he'd vaulted over the reception desk, rushing to Sam's side and elbowing Gabriel out of the way. "Sam? Sammy? What happened? Did you hit your head? Why are you wet?"

"I took Gabriel for a walk. We went down by the stream," Sam wrapped his arms around himself miserably. His teeth chattered when he pressed them together. Dean reached out, rubbing his hands up and down over Sam's shoulders, trying to keep him warm.

"Look at you, you're soaked. Did you fall in?"

"I was pushed in. Those boys from school, they were there and they…." Sam stopped talking, hunching up over himself. Gabriel inched forward, licking at his hand. Finally, Sam found his voice again. "I ran and they still caught up with me. They threw me in. I don't really remember what happened after that. I think Gabriel pulled me out. The boys were gone and I was on the bank and Gabriel kept nudging me till I got up."

"God, Sam, look at you. You've got a cut on your head, you must have hit it. I got to take you to hospital."

"No, no hospitals. What if they report it to the social worker? I'm not supposed to get into any more fights, Dean!"

"This wasn't a fight, Sam. It was a fucking ambush. They threw you in a river!"

"Dean, please. I just want to go home," Sam said, drawing his feet up, trying to scrunch his too-big body up as small as it could go. "I just want to get warm."

"Let me clean out that cut Sam and put a plaster on it. Then I'll talk to Bobby about letting me drive you home."

Bobby turned out to be a gruff old man who owned the garage. He made a fuss about Dean leaving, but when he saw the state Sam was in he told Dean to make up the extra time on the weekend and let him go. He even found an old blanket for Sam, draping it round his shoulders and quietly asking Sam if he didn't want to go to hospital while Dean drove his car round to the front of the reception.

Gabriel rode home in the back of the car. Dean didn't have anything to say about a wet dog on his precious seats. He kept glancing at Sam, reaching out to check his temperature, to check the bandage on his head was secured right. The drive took all of five minutes but it was long enough for Gabriel to begin to like Dean. He cared. Everything was sincere, real and Dean was terrified. Gabriel could see it clearly in his eyes and in his soul when Dean looked at Sam. He was frightening of losing Sam.

They reached home and Dean found a dry, warm change of clothes for Sam while Sam took a shower, washing the muck from the river off his body. Dean filled up hot water bottles, brought a blanket and pillows downstairs and made up the couch for Sam. He sat up with him, keeping him awake, letting him pick what they watched on TV, checking his temperature at intervals and waiting. Hours passed and Sam got better, not worse. He didn't feel sick, he wasn't dizzy. Dean made him stay awake till gone midnight, phoning his second job part way through the evening and calling in sick himself. Finally, he let Sam drift off but he didn't sleep himself. He stayed awake, watching Sam.

Gabriel stayed awake too, ready to alert Dean if he sensed anything wrong. He sat at Sam's side, licking his hand now and again, comforted when Sam slept dreamless and safe.

Around 2am Dean reached out, stroking his head, his touch light and hesitant.

"I guess you're a pretty good dog after all," he said quietly. "Thanks, boy."

Gabriel scrabbled at the fridge door. Sam was on bed rest which meant Dean was in charge of feeding him. Dean didn't leave leftovers. He ate everything on his plate, stuffing it into his mouth. It had been fascinating to watch him. Gabriel wondered if Dean ate at work or if he skipped lunch. He noticed Dean skipped breakfast. At first he'd suspected Dean was one of those people who didn't feel hungry in the morning, who a cup of coffee would set up just fine, but then he'd noticed Dean counting out how many bowls of cereal were left in a packet. There was food in the fridge, food in the cupboards but it was all for Sam. Dean didn't have breakfast, he didn't take a packed lunch for work and when he cooked the evening meal he gave himself the smaller portion and ate that with a ravenous appetite. Sam never went wanting. He'd never come downstairs to find the cupboards were bare. Gabriel was impressed with Dean's dedication to his brother, but he was also starving.

Dean filled his bowl with kibble when Gabriel begged and stared at him till Gabriel felt obligated to eat a mouthful. It tasted even worse than it smelled. He'd managed two mouthfuls and that seemed to satisfy Dean. It hadn't satisfied Gabriel though. There was food in the fridge, the leftovers of Sam's dinner that he didn't finish and Dean had kept back, planning to warm up for him if he got hungry later. It was only tuna noddle casserole but even that sounded better to Gabriel then trying to force down another mouthful of kibble.

Finally, he hooked a claw in to the door and after much huffing and puffing, he wiggled enough room to stick his nose into the crack and swing the fridge door wide. Another second and he'd knocked the plate with Sam's leftovers on it down on to the floor. The plate shattered but Gabriel was too hungry to care. He ate quickly, avoiding the bits of broken plate, knowing that in any moment he was going to be interrupted. There were footsteps on the stairs already, Dean coming to see what the racket was. Gabriel had hoped that Dean wouldn't notice. He'd taken a call from Castiel and gone up to his bedroom. Gabriel thought they might be having phone sex, but the speed with which Dean took the stairs suggested that they had only been talking.

"That damn dog!"

Gabriel risked another mouthful. That morning Dean had dumped a bucket of cold water over him and called it giving him a bath. Gabriel deserved pasta after that.

"He's got the fridge open and he's broken a plate," Dean narrated into the phone for Castiel's benefit. "He's eating the leftovers." Gabriel glanced up at Dean and kept eating. It wasn't as if Dean could do anything about it now. Dean glared at him, finding the dustpan and brush, the phone pinned between his shoulder and his ear so he could keep talking to Cas. He knelt in front of the open fridge door, shoeing Gabriel away with the wave of his hand before he began sweeping up.

"This stupid dog, it doesn't even like dog food," he muttered. "He's too smart, Cas. I mean, I'm glad he's smart, I really am. If he pulled Sam out of the river like Sam said then I owe him but I can't afford for him to start eating me out of house and home."

He cleaned up the smashed plate and the bits of casserole that Gabriel had missed. Gabriel skulked off with his tail between his legs. He didn't have to listen to Dean bad mouth him. Gabriel had saved Sam from the river. Sam could have drowned but Gabriel had pulled him out. Dean owed him a lot more than a plate of tuna noddle casserole.

Dean shut the fridge door and got to his feet, tipping the contents of the dustpan into the bin. "What? No, no, Cas. I don't want your money." He paused for a moment, rolling his eyes. "It's not a loan, Cas. You know I can't pay you back and I know you don't expect me to. I'm not gonna take your money so stop offering."

Dean put the dustpan and brush away, shaking his fist at Gabriel as he did so but it was an empty gesture. His mouth twisted unhappily at something Castiel said on the other end of the line. "I know, I know. Sam won't tell me anything. Jesus, Cas, if I knew the names of these boys then I'd go and make them regret ever laying a hand on Sam."

There was another pause and then Dean chuckled. "No, I don't think the social worker would like it."

Gabriel strained his ears, wishing he could hear Castiel's side of the conversation. While he still thought Castiel had made a spectacularly bad choice in deciding to Fall to be with a human, especially a human who didn't return his feelings, he couldn't help but see all the good qualities that could make someone fall to be with Dean. He was loyal, kind, self-sacrificing and devoted to Sam. He was also a bit of a martyr and Castiel had always been in awe of the martyrs, especially the ones who died in battle. If Dean had been born in the 14th century, all he would have needed was a horse and a sword and he would have been perfect.

"I'm gonna go check on Sam, make sure he's brushed his teeth, then I might turn in myself," Dean said and Gabriel couldn't help sighing. If Dean wasn't so much of a martyr then he'd realise how lucky he was to have Castiel and he'd accept his help.

"Yeah, night Cas. I'll tell Sam goodnight from you too. Yeah, I know. I know, Cas. Me too." Dean hung up then, holding the phone in his hand, staring off in to space. He was smiling. Gabriel didn't even think he knew that he was smiling. It was a private smile as Dean replayed the conversation in his head and Gabriel had to wonder exactly what it was Dean knew and felt too. Maybe Castiel's love wasn't as completely one-sided as Gabriel had suspected.

Dean set the phone down on the kitchen counter then, shaking his head and turned to look at Gabriel. "Come on, get upstairs. Sam won't go to sleep till you're up there," he said, pointing out the door and up the stairs.

Gabriel ran past him, galloping up the stairs and into Sam's room. He tried not to feel guilty when Sam patted the bed, tried not to feel guilty when Sam hugged him and asked him where he'd been. One day, he wasn't going to be there when Sam went to bed. He couldn't stay forever. He wasn't a dog, he couldn't live on leftovers and stolen food and curling up at the end of Sam's bed forever. But he could stay a little longer than a week, he supposed. Sam needed him to stay. Both of the brothers did.

Sam had stayed in bed and in the house for two days. Gabriel didn't mind admitting that by the end of two days he was going stir-crazy. Dean let him out to run around the backyard but he was still working and a dog wasn't welcome. Gabriel watched as much daytime television as he could stomach, lying across Sam's lap and pawing the remote to change the channel when nothing good was one. After three days it was obvious Sam wasn't about to take a turn for the worse. His appetite was back and he looked hearty and hale. The nasty gash on his forehead had scabbed over. It hadn't needed stitches which was a good thing.

Sam took him for a walk to town, keeping Gabriel on a short leash even as he tried to scamper off to look in the shop windows, whining when Sam tugged him back. There wasn't much to look at but Gabriel still wanted to look. They went as far as the end of the long main road and then turned back. Gabriel doubted that they'd ever go back to the creek. He couldn't really say he regretted that. He didn't want to go anywhere near that swell of water again. It was tainted forever by its association with Sam's near-drowning experience.

"Come on, boy," Sam said, tugging on the lead, pulling him while Gabriel stopped to sniff at the open door of the pizza parlour. Dean would start his shift in a few hours. He wondered if he sat up and begged, and if Sam looked extra pathetic, the owner might take pity on them and give them a slice or two. Even some spare garlic bread would do nicely. "Come on."

"Begging for food, Winchester?"

Sam turned quickly, tugging Gabriel round with him. Gordon Walker, thankfully alone, was standing blocking their way. He looked just as threatening as he had the day on the track by the river, and Gabriel wondered if he even cared that this was a public place. That same hatred for Sam still rolled off him, even now. Gabriel growled, hackles raising.

"I'm going home," Sam said, glancing both ways along the street before pulling Gabriel with him, heading across the street. Walker followed them.

"Haven't seen you for a while, I thought you'd drowned, Winchester," he said. "Shame you didn't."

Gabriel glanced up at Sam, watching his jaw clench but Sam kept walking, kept his head down. Gabriel couldn't believe the self-control.

"Maybe we should have just got you drunk? I heard your daddy was drunk the night he smashed his car. Probably drove off the road on purpose to avoid having to come home to you!"

Sam stopped, he let go of Gabriel's lead and slowly, very slowly, he turned to face Walker. "What did you say?"

"You heard me. You daddy was ashamed of you, ashamed of your good-for-nothing brother."

Sam drew his fist back but he wasn't fast enough, Walker was already there, grabbing hold of his hand and twisting it, twisting it even when Sam gasped for breath, his face going white. He was going to break Sam's arm and people were going to let him. There were worried faces in the doorways, people peering at them from the shop windows but no one was going to step in.

Gabriel snarled. Maybe they weren't going to do anything to stop it but he could. He could put the fear of god into Gordon Walker, make him regret the moment he thought it was a good idea to pick on Sam.

He jumped at the boy, biting down hard into Walker's arm, feeling his teeth slide through flesh as if it was butter, biting down hard enough to require more than just a few stitches. Walker let go of Sam immediately, screaming. He shook his arm, trying to shake Gabriel off but it was fruitless. Gabriel bit down harder, jaw locked around Walker's arm, enjoying the look of fear in the boy's eyes. Walker fell to the ground, holding his injured arm out to protect him and keep the dog from his face and neck.

"Gabriel! Gabriel! Let him go!" Sam screamed, grabbing at Gabriel's collar, tugging him.

Gabriel dropped Walker's arm, looking round at Sam, surprised and confused by Sam's horrified look. All Gabriel had done was give Gordon Walker what he deserved. He'd spilt his blood for all the times he'd spilled Sam's. It was biblical. It was justice. It was what Gabriel was meant to do.

"Oh god, oh god," Sam moaned, dragging him away. "Gabriel, what have you done?"

"Your dog's a monster. He should be put down!" Walker howled, cradling his arm to his chest. There was blood everywhere. People were coming out now, all of them keeping their distance still but Gabriel could see it was fear now that was keeping them back, not a vague reluctance to get involved. It was fear of Gabriel.

"Come on," Sam said again and Gabriel went with him when he tugged this time, running as fast as his legs would carry him, running at Sam's side. As they reached the beginning of their road, Gabriel could hear the sound of siren in the distance. Sam shooed him into the house, shutting and locking the door behind them. He led Gabriel into the kitchen and started the tap running. He grabbed a tea towel, soaking it thoroughly and then knelt in front of Gabriel, holding his jaw steady as he dabbed at him with a tea-towel.

"You're covered in blood. It's all over your muzzle," Sam said, the same weight of horror in his voice that had been there in the street. He swallowed, meeting Gabriel's eyes and then forced a smile on to his face. "Don't worry, I'll get you clean. I won't tell Dean."

He scrubbed at Gabriel's muzzle for a moment in silence and then threw his arms around Gabriel, hugging him tightly. "Why did you have to bite him?"

Gabriel nudged his nose against Sam's shoulder, wondering what the problem was. He'd fought back for Sam. Sam hadn't been able to do it for himself. He'd needed Gabriel to be his guardian angel and Gabriel had been. Gordon Walker was never going to hurt Sam ever again. Gabriel had made certain of that.

The front door banged open an hour later, the sound of it echoing around the house. From under the protection of Sam's bedcovers Gabriel felt it.

"Sam?" Dean's voice floated up from the floor below them. "Sam? Are you upstairs? There was an ambulance in town today. Something happened, there was a knife fight or something. I saw Jody there, they'd cordoned it all off. Hey, Sam? Sam, get down here!"

"Oh god," Sam said softly. Gabriel whimpered, shuffling down deeper under the covers. He knew it wouldn't work but he hoped if he stayed there then he could shut the world out. Sam shifted, moving off the bed and Gabriel wiggled out just enough to see what he was doing. Dean was still calling Sam's name from downstairs, growing more agitated with each passing second. Gabriel cocked his head to one side as Sam knelt down.

"God," Sam said quietly, his head bowed and his hands clasped and Gabriel realised with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that Sam was praying. "I know I haven't prayed to you since dad died, but I do believe in you and I know that you can help people. Please help me, please keep Gabriel safe. He's a good dog."

Sam didn't have to say that he believed. Gabriel could see it. The light of Sam's belief shined brightly. Even with everything that had happened to him Sam stilled believed. The weight of his belief, the brightness of it, was almost too much for Gabriel. He'd run away from this sort of goodness. He hadn't wanted to have any part in this anymore and yet here he was, listening to a prayer from a believer.

There were footsteps on the stairs, Dean's footsteps. The door handle rattled and then the door opened, Dean sighing as he looked in on them.

"What are you doing Sam?" he asked.

"Amen," Sam said quietly, unclasping his hands and looking up at Dean. Gabriel looked up at him too. Dean paled visibly.

"Is that blood on that dog's mouth?" He asked, pointing at Gabriel. Gabriel whimpered, shuffling back into the protection of the blanket. "Sam, did he bite you?"

"No. He didn't bite me. He was protecting me, Dean. He bit Gordon Walker!"

"Gordon Walker?"

"He's the boy I've been getting into fights with, the one from school. He was the boy who pushed me in the creek. He started following me in the street, he said I should have drowned, he said that dad...that dad killed himself because he was ashamed of us," Sam's eyes were filled with tears, the words and the memory painful for him. "He was going to break my arm, Dean. Gabriel was just protecting me. He bit him but he was only protecting me."

"It's okay, Sammy," Dean said softly, sinking to his knees beside Sam and wrapping an arm around him. "Nothing bad is going to happen and nothing's going to happen to Gabriel either."

"Do you mean that?" Sam asked, sniffing.

"Yeah, I mean it," Dean said. He reached up with one hand, ruffling Sam's hair. Sam sniffed again but managed a smile.

"Gabriel really was just protecting me."

"I know. He's a good dog, Sam."

Gabriel peered out from under the blanket and Dean patted him on his head.

"He's a good dog," he said again, quietly, reflectively.

Downstairs there was a knock on the front door. Dean sighed, getting to his feet and motioning for Sam and Gabriel to stay where they were.

"It's probably just Cas," he said.

Dean ran down the stairs quickly. Despite the brave face he'd put on for Sam he really didn't believe it would be Cas at the door. Sam's dog had bitten someone. It was an obvious case of protecting its master but it had still bitten someone and so badly that an ambulance had been called. That was going to cause problems.

Dean didn't think Gordon Walker would have kept quiet about what happened. He wasn't the sort. Since they'd never taken Sam to hospital and Sam was healing up now, it would be Sam's word against Gordon's that what happened down at the creek really happened. Gordon could say that Sam set his dog on him without provocation and there'd be no evidence the other way. Even if he'd called Sam every name under the sun, even if he'd told Sam he should be dead, even if he'd dragged their dad into it, Gordon had used words and Sam had used violence. There had been a lot of blood on the side-walk, Dean remembered that.

There was another knock on the door, louder this time and Dean swore under his breath. He reached the front door and pulled it open, his heart sinking as he saw the Sheriff standing there. The last time she'd been on the doorstep, Jody had been coming to tell him that his dad had had an accident. He had shown her into the living room, sat down across from her and tried to keep it together while his world fell apart.

"Jody," he greeted her with a nod of his head.

"Dean," she said. "I've come about the dog."

"What dog?" Dean asked, shrugging his shoulders and playing for time. Jody didn't look impressed.

"Sam's dog, Dean. The one that bit Gordon Walker. I've got to take him in, Dean. He's a dangerous dog, Gordon's had to have stitches."

"Did he tell you what he did to Sam?" Dean asked angrily. "Getting bitten by a dog was the least of what he deserved."

"Dean, you know the world doesn't work like that. You can't be a vigilante. If this Walker boy was causing problems for Sam then you should have come to me. I could have done something."

"And it would have gone on some report for the social worker," Dean said.

Jody looked away from him, unable to meet Dean's eye.

"Dean, about that...I had to call, you understand, Sam's a minor and this is a serious matter,"

"You called the social worker?"

"I had to, Dean," Jody said. "Can I come in? I need to sit down and talk to you."

It was too much like that night. The social worker had been on her way then as well, coming to pick up Sam and take him somewhere till they could arrange for a relative to take care of him. It didn't matter that Dean was a relative, that he was eighteen. Until he'd kicked up a fuss they were going to take Sam away from him when Dean was the only person he had left.

Dean walked numbly in to the living room, Jody behind him. He sat down on the sofa, his hands clasped in his lap and waited for the news to get worse. Jody sat across from him, she looked sympathetic but Dean could see it in her eye's that she was disappointed in him. He'd fucked up and she'd been counting on him not to. She'd been praying for a miracle and Dean hadn't been able to deliver.

"What's going to happen?" he asked.

"They're going to take Sam into care. It's not safe for him here, Dean. The dog was the last straw. You can't have Sam in the same house as a dangerous animal, it could have attacked him."

"Gabriel wouldn't hurt Sam," Dean said quietly.

"We have to destroy the dog, Dean."

"And then?"

"Then, after a few months, if you've got things straightened out, it might be possible for Sam to come and live here again."

"So Sam has to rot in foster care till I tick off enough boxes on some stupid check list?"

"Sam has to go to foster care because you're not coping Dean! You're a teenager, for godsake. You can hardly look after yourself, let alone Sam."

"That's not true. I've been looking after Sam my whole life! I'm everything Sam's got, I'm his family."

"Dean, you have to think about what's best for Sam. You put him in danger, he's been suspended from school. Sam used to be a good kid."

"Sam still is a good kid! It's everyone else who's changed, it's everyone else who thinks he's trouble."

"Dean," Jody said softly. "Where's Sam right now?"

"Upstairs, with the dog," Dean said, his voice tight.

Jody got up, taking a step towards the door and Dean let her go. None of it felt real. None of it could be real. Castiel had said having a dog would help them, would help Sam, but it had got Sam taken away. They'd had the stupid thing for a week and it had ruined their lives.

There was a noise overhead, scuffling and barking, the sound of Sam shouting. Dean knew Jody had gone up to fetch Gabriel. Maybe she'd told Sam what was going to happen, or Sam had guessed. He was a smart kid. He loved that stupid dog and it had only been trying to protect him. It wasn't fair that it had to die because of that. Dean should never have even gone to the pound in the first place, should never have agreed with Cas's hare-brained scheme. He should have known that he and Sam were no good for any living thing to be around.

There was a thump and then another, and another. Gabriel being pulled down the stairs, Dean guessed, and resisting every step of the way. There was the sound of hurried footsteps after him and then Sam burst into the room, tears streaming down his face.

"Jody's taking Gabriel! She's taking Gabriel! She can't. Dean, stop her!"

Dean stood up slowly. He reached for Sam, gripping his shoulder and pulled him close. Sam was growing every day but he was still just shorter than Dean, just enough that Dean could press Sam against his shoulder and hold him close. It would be for the last time, Dean realised, dread sinking up on him. It didn't matter what he did after this. He'd been branded as unfit. It could take months, years to get Sam back, if he ever did. They'd have to see each other on supervised visitation days and everything they said and did would be recorded by someone with a clipboard, marking them against an impossible set of expectations.

He was losing Sam, possibly for good.

"I am so sorry," he said, pressing a kiss to Sam's hair. "I am so sorry, Sam."

Gabriel scrabbled furiously at the lock of the police cruiser he'd been shut in. When that proved fruitless he padded up and down, looking out of the windows, searching desperately for a sight of Sam. There were a lot of people there now. There were the police, the social services, Sam and Dean's neighbours who'd come out to get a good look at the commotion going on. There was no sign of either Sam or Dean though, they were still shut up in the house.

Gabriel sat down, tipping his head back and howled. It was long and mournful and everything he felt. Everything had gone wrong. Gabriel had tried to do the right thing, had tried to protect Sam and provide some justice to the Winchester's lives but nothing had worked out the way he'd wanted it to. Gabriel knew he was on death row, he wasn't worried about himself. Even in this wretched state he doubted an injection, even a shot to the head, would kill him. He'd just get up, shake it off and keep going. He wasn't worried about himself. He'd escape eventually, slip through their grasp and run the way he should have done right from the start. It was Sam he was worried about. He'd been trying to make things better for Sam, not destroy the only security and family that Sam had.

There was a sudden click, the lock of the police car popping free and then the trunk was opened. Castiel's worried face peered in at him. He gestured for Gabriel to jump out and Gabriel did, wondering when Castiel had become so bold and so brazen. Every one was watching the house but someone could have looked round, they could have seen Castiel opening the truck or heard the sound of the car being unlocked.

Gabriel ducked behind the car, Castiel following him. Inside the house there was shouting, the voices indistinguishable loud, angry noises but it was enough to draw attention away from a now empty police car parked further down the street. The Winchester boy's sure knew how to make a scene.

"What did you do?" Castiel said, crouching down. "You've ruined everything. Things were getting better, they were going to make it. I told you to go and you should have gone!"

"I was trying to protect Sam!"

"I've been protecting them, you didn't need to interfere."

"You weren't doing a very good job," Gabriel snarled.

"I just needed Dean to let me help him. I just... a dog was supposed to be the first step. He was supposed to trust me, trust my ideas. You weren't supposed to be there. You ruined everything, Gabriel!"

"What are you going to do now then?" Gabriel asked, unable to deny what Castiel was saying. Would any of it have happened if Gabriel hadn't been there? Sam would never have been down by the creek if he hadn't been walking with Gabriel, there would never have been a fight down there, Gabriel would never have bitten Gordon Walker the next time they met. If he had Fallen properly, if he had ended up anywhere but Lawrence, Kansas then he wouldn't have fallen into the lives of Sam and Dean Winchester, and none of this would be happening now.

"I don't know," Castiel said, straightening up. "I have to do something."

"What can I do?" Gabriel asked, ears pricking up. He could do something to right this wrong, he could help them somehow.

Castiel looked at him coldly. "You can run away, Gabriel. You're good at that."

He strode off, pushing people out of the way to get to the front door, to get to Dean. Gabriel peered from behind the car, watching him. Just as Castiel reached the door it was thrown open, an angry looking woman appearing there, her mouth set in a grim line. She had Sam in front of her, her hand on Sam's arm, marching him out of the house. The small crowd that had gathered on the front lawn parted immediately and Gabriel knew that this had to be the formidable social worker that both Dean and Sam had been so scared of.

She marched Sam down the porch, like he was a criminal, not a teenage boy. Dean appeared in the doorway after them. For a moment Gabriel thought he was going to do something stupid, attempt to tackle the social worker from behind and make a run for it with Sam, but Castiel got to him, holding him back.

"You can't take him!" Dean shouted. "Sam!"

There was noise, commotion but Gabriel was focused on just one thing. Sam's lips were moving, mumbling a prayer and Gabriel heard that clear as day. He heard Sam's faith, he heard his devotion and he was running, his feet carrying him up the path. He felt himself changing as he ran, felt the physical form that had bounded him for a week fading away. He reached Sam and he was pure, radiating the celestial power of Heaven, bright light streaming from him. He was an angel again, freed by the power of Sam's true belief.

People were screaming. The social worker let go of Sam, falling to her knees, blood streaming from her eyes. Castiel was crouched in front of Dean, shielding him with his body, his hands over Dean's ears.

And Sam stood, the only one still standing, his eyes wide with fear and awe, gazing on the true form of the archangel Gabriel.

"What are you?" he asked reverently.

"An angel," Gabriel answered and more screaming followed. "My name is Gabriel."

Sam's eyes widened further. "Castiel knew."

Gabriel nodded. "Castiel is my brother, another angel."

"Are you my guardian angel?" Sam asked quietly.

"I would like to be," Gabriel said. This was his chance, his moment to undo all the wrong he had done Sam. He had to the power now to conquer and to vanquish. He could tip the scales of fate in Sam's favour. He could protect him. "Ask of me what you wish. I will do anything you ask of me. I can smite your enemies, raise your father from the dead. Tell me what to do, Sam."

Sam stared at him. Gabriel could see into him, could see his heart beating like the wings of a frightened bird. Sam was a child really, maybe too young for the offer Gabriel was making him but children were innocent. Gabriel had always cared for the innocent.

Sam swallowed, licking his lips. "I want to stay with Dean," he said, his voice hardly more than a whisper.

Gabriel's four faces looked puzzled. "But I can give you anything. I can do anything, Sam."

"I know," Sam said. "But I don't want anything else. I just want things to go back to the way they were."

"I can do that," Gabriel said.

He waved his hand through the air. The world around them began to fade away, becoming fainter and fainter until there was darkness. People faded too, the screams and the noise. Gabriel brought himself and Sam, Dean and Castiel, into the darkness. Then, in one bright flash of light, they were back in the Winchesters' kitchen on a bright, sunny Monday morning. Gabriel bent over, his head brushing the ceiling, the kitchen too cramped and too small to hold him properly. He towered over them, looking down over them the way he had always done in Heaven.

Castiel turned Dean away from him, whispering something softly to him, telling him he could open his eyes if he turned away and didn't look directly at Gabriel.

"Is Sam alright?" Dean gasped.

"I'm fine!" Sam said. "I can see him, Dean. I can hear him! Gabriel's huge. And he's got the head of a dog, and the head of a lion and two other heads and he's an angel."

Dean chuckled softly. "Yeah, that sounds pretty amazing, Sam. Wish I could see it."

"Why can't you?" Sam asked.

Gabriel opened a mouth to speak but Castiel held out his hand, stopping him.

"Only certain people can see our true forms," he said softly. "It's very rare. Sam is special."

"I knew that," Dean said. He whistled low, rocking forward on the balls of his feet. "So, you're an angel, Cas?"

"Yes," Castiel said.

"Bet I'm going straight to Hell then, all the things I wanted to do to you," Dean murmured.

"No, never. I'd never let you," Castiel said earnestly.

"So what happens now?" Dean asked.

"Now we start over," Castiel said. "Nothing's happened yet. No one's coming to take Sam away. Gabriel changed it, took us back to the start of the week. No one else will remember anything, only the four of us."

"And Gabriel? I think people might notice a big dog-lion headed angel going around melting people's brains out of their ears when he talks."

"I don't want Gabriel to leave," Sam said stubbornly. "He said he was my guardian angel so he should stay. You've got Cas."

"Cas doesn't make people's eyes bleed when they look at him," Dean said.

Gabriel made a motion with a hand, signalling to Castiel that he wanted to speak and obediently Castiel covered Dean's ears, tugging him close until their foreheads were pressed together, the two of them with their eyes closed, Castiel shielding him from what was about to come.

Sam turned an expectant, hopeful face up to Gabriel, waiting for his answer.

"I have to go," Gabriel said. Sam's face fell immediately.


"Your brother is right. I can't stay here in this form."

"Can't you turn into a dog again?"

Gabriel laughed. The light bulbs fluttered on and off, the microwave set itself alight and water poured from the taps. Sam winced, running to turn off the taps and Gabriel extinguished the fire with a click of his fingers.

"I was a terrible dog," Gabriel said.

"I liked you," Sam said slowly. "I know you caused a lot of trouble but I liked you. I don't want you to go away forever."

"I'm not going to go away forever," Gabriel promised. "I said I'd protect you, that I'd be your guardian angel and I will. I just need to find a way to do that. I will come back, Sam. You have faith, Sam. Have faith in me, I'll come back to you."

Sam nodded slowly. "I'll wait, but you had better come back or I'll track you down, Gabriel. Remember, I can see your true form. You can't hide from me."

Gabriel smiled and then he vanished. Castiel uncovered Dean's ears, smiling at him.

"I'm sorry I never told you," he said, pre-empting the conversation he thought was coming.

"I wouldn't have believed you," Dean said. He shook his head, glancing at Castiel from the corner of his eye, a sly grin on his face. "So, you my guardian angel, Cas?"

"In a manner of speaking," Castiel said. "I'm in love with you and I wanted to stay with you. I was in love with you when all I saw was your soul. I fell to be with you, to be almost-human with you. I'm not your guardian angel but I want to protect you, Dean."

Dean sighed. "That's…that's ridiculous, Cas."

"I know," Castiel said softly, hanging his head.

Dean reached out, tipping his chin up. "I don't know what to do with you," he said, grinning. Castiel opened his mouth and then closed it again smartly as Dean pulled him close, pressing their lips together in a short, chaste kiss. "Let me get used to this, Cas, but things are going to be different. I'm going to be different," Dean promised when they broke apart.

He turned away from Castiel, his eyes half-closed as if he expected some trace of Gabriel to still be there. When nothing happened, he reached out for Sam, pulling him in to a tight hug.

"You're safe," he said. "No one's ever going to take you away. I promise, Sam. No one ever."

"Do you think Gabriel's going to come back?" Sam asked, burying his face in Dean's shoulder.

"Maybe, Sam," Dean said quietly.

The next week, the new week, passed without incident. Dean made it through his shifts without needing to come home early, Castiel turned up every day with homework for Sam and stayed to make dinner, still there when Dean came home. Towards the end of the week he was still there when Sam got up in the morning. It was all quiet and normal, all easy the way it should be. Dean was whistling in the morning, smiling and happy. Sam didn't go anywhere and he didn't get himself into trouble. He prayed every day before he went to bed, prayed to Gabriel and waited for a knock on the door.

The weekend rolled around. There was still no Gabriel. Sunday night slipped in to Monday morning and Sam had to go back to school. Dean dropped him at the gates where Castiel was waiting for him and Castiel walked him into school. It didn't matter that this time, in this week, Gordon Walker hadn't tried to drown him in the creek. Sam still knew that Gordon hated him. He was still going to be there in school, still spouting his bullshit and itching to draw Sam into a fight. Castiel couldn't go everywhere with him, he couldn't take Sam's classes with him. Sam was the one who had to stay in control, who had to make sure that whatever Gordon said he just shrugged him off and kept going.

Castiel walked him to the classroom door, pausing there, looking uncertainly at Sam.

"Are you going to be okay?" he asked softly, glancing up and down the hallway. "If you want to go home, I'll cover for you."

"No, Cas, I'll be fine," Sam said, smiling at him. "I'll see you at lunch time, okay?"

Castiel smiled back nervously. "Okay," he agreed. He patted Sam awkwardly on the shoulder and then turned away, heading down the hall to his own class. Sam still couldn't quite get over the idea that an angel was happily going to high school, happily living in a tiny small town with his powers almost completely gone, just to be close to one man. Sam found it hard to believe in that level of devotion, but he was glad that Castiel was part of their lives. Dean deserved someone who literally could go to Hell and back for him. It was pretty cool that his brother's boyfriend was an angel, even if Sam could never tell anybody.

Sam pushed the door to his classroom open, smiling.

The classroom was empty save for a boy Sam didn't recognise. He was sitting on with his feet up on his desk, head thrown back, necking skittles from the packet. He had shaggy dark blonde hair and when he opened his eyes they were a warm chocolate brown.

Sam knew. He knew instantly.

He said he'd know Gabriel anywhere and that was true. He knew Gabriel now, even though he was in a human form. There was no way he could ever mistake Gabriel for anyone else.

"Gabriel," he breathed.

The boy looked up at him, grinning.

"Hey, kiddo," he said.

Sam dropped his bag and ran for Gabriel, knocking him off his chair and on to the floor, hugging him tightly.

"I knew you'd come back."

"Well, yeah," Gabriel said, wincing and rubbing at the back of his head. "You need a guardian angel, kid. You're trouble."

Sam laughed, hugging Gabriel just that little bit tighter. Suddenly, he wasn't worried about coping with school or with Gordon Walker or any of the other things he'd been worried about. Gabriel was back, he'd kept his promise and that was the most important thing to Sam.

The whole world was suddenly starting to look a lot brighter.