Author's note: originally published 18 August 2011 on AO3. Written for the Gabriel Big Bang. AU after season 5 finale.

Main pairing Gabriel/Sam Winchester. Background Castiel/Dean Winchester.

Warnings: Spoilers up to the end of season 5, slight description of human sacrifice

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Gabriel woke up with his face in the damp Earth and a slight drizzle of rain pattering across his back. He was confused at first by a lack of something, although he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Then he realized that the sleeping presence of the human soul that had been with him for millennia was no longer there. The moment he realized he was alone in the body of his vessel, everything came flooding back. He had fought his brother and died. Or at least, he was suppose to be dead.

With a groan, Gabriel sat up. How much time had passed since Lucifer killed him? He didn't know but for his Father to bring him back, he had to have chosen the right side in this whole stupid fight. Go figure, the Winchesters were actually right, but for all he knew, both brothers might be dead. He no longer believed they would ever say yes. As to the state of the Apocalypse, though, anything could have happened while he was dead.

Well, only one way to find out. Tentatively, he reached out to the connection he shared with Sam Winchester. In granting Sam's plea to give his brother back, his prayer really, he'd formed the bond years ago. Dying to give Sam a chance to get away from Lucifer should have strengthened it, for he surely didn't do it for Dean, Righteous Man or not. Yet the connection was so faint it was almost as if nothing was there. Where before the connection had been mostly Sam's soul seeking the warmth of Gabriel's Grace, now it was his Grace that grasped the soul tight, trying to ease the pain that radiated from it.

Gabriel took a steadying breath. For Sam Winchesters bright soul to be so distraught, the Apocalypse probably wasn't going very well. For all Gabriel knew, the world lay in ashes. Or Dean was dead, which would mean virtually the same thing for Sam. No matter, he'd find out in a second. Grasping the connection tight, he followed it. Spreading his metaphorical wings, he took flight.

The first thing he noticed upon arrival was the brilliance of his brothers. Both Michael and Lucifer were without the constraints of their vessels and fighting each other, causing their Graces' to shine like they hadn't for millennia. For eternal moments, all of Gabriel's senses were focused on the fight. His brothers were going at each other with flaming swords, with ice and fire, with lightning crackling around them. But no matter how terrifyingly beautiful they were, Gabriel hadn't come here for them.

He looked around for Sam, knowing he had to be here somewhere. His eyes fell upon a burned out, shriveled up soul, pressed into a corner as far away from the fight as it could get. Gabriel was honestly surprised to see a small spark of life at the very center of the essence. It wouldn't take long before even that little bit was burned out and Gabriel knew that if it hadn't been for the Winchester tenacity, the soul wouldn't have been alive at all anymore. What was worse, there was nothing Gabriel could do. Archangel though he might be, even he couldn't heal the sheer extent of the damage done to this man.

Gabriel turned away from the soul, but poured a little more of his Grace through the link between him and Sam. It wouldn't heal any damage, but at least the last moments of his life would be spend wrapped up in Gabriel's warm and comforting Grace, instead of in agony.

A slight flickering in another corner drew Gabriel's attention. When he saw Sam's spirit cowering in the corner there, Gabriel's Grace poured out towards it in joy. Gone was the bright shining light he usually associated with Sam's soul, only to be replaced by ragged edges and a dull shine. But through it all, the overwhelming presence of Sam was still there. This, he could fix.

Gabriel carefully skirted the edges of the room towards Sam's soul, trying not to attract the attention of his brothers. Not that he thought they'd take their senses off each other long enough to notice him. When he reached Sam, he pulled the soul towards him, cradling it in the depths of his Grace, keeping it safe and starting the healing process. Gabriel knitted the ragged edges back together and coaxed the burning ember of Sam's soul back to its former shining glory.

When Sam's soul was again shining as brightly as it had the first time Gabriel had seen him, he shifted his attention from his precious cargo to his environment. He hadn't taken any note of where he was before, first distracted by his feuding brothers, then distracted by caring for Sam's battered soul. So his shock was understandably enormous when he realized he was in the cage his Father had created for Lucifer.

Somehow, the freaking Winchesters had done it. They'd managed to get Lucifer back in his cage, stopping the Apocalypse. Granted, they'd trapped Michael, Sam and another soul there too. For a brief moment, Gabriel contemplated the possibility the other soul trapped down here was Dean. It would make sense, what with Michael down here and it showing distinct Winchester characteristics. But he discarded the idea, Castiel would never leave Dean down here. That is, unless his little brother was dead.

Gabriel turned his thoughts away from that path, not willing to consider that scenario. Instead, he contemplated the predicament he found himself in. The cage had several cracks that were growing. The pulsing web of divine energy, specifically designed to hold in the Grace and being of an archangel, was clearly no match against the combined force of three archangels. It had probably already started to form some small cracks, through which Gabriel had unknowingly entered, but now it was getting out of hand. His brothers hadn't noticed it yet in their preoccupation with each other, but Gabriel knew that wouldn't last.

He grabbed Sam's soul tight, wrapping it up in even more layers of his Grace, before taking flight again. The moment he was out of the cage, he turned most of his Grace towards repairing the fissures in the energy web and strengthening it. When he was certain the cage was repaired and going to hold, he flew out of hell.

He landed top-side where he felt the connection with Sam's disintegrated body the most, in Stull Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas. Gabriel found it to be particularly fitting that it was here, where the Winchesters started their lives, that the Apocalypse had ended. With the last of his strength, he began rebuilding Sam's body. Pulling the strands of imprint Sam had left in his last moments on Earth together, Gabriel wove it together to form the body he knew so well.

Months of Tuesdays and then six months of following Sam on his tour of vengeance had enabled him to know every line of Sam's body intimately. The fleeting smiles on Sam's face, the way his body moved when fighting hand to hand, the lines of concentration between his brows when shooting a gun, it was all etched into Gabriel's mind.

The broad range of Sam's emotion and his memories were locked into Gabriel's Grace through his bond with Sam. When his body was finished, Gabriel poured the emotions and memories back into it. He hesitated for a moment when he got to Sam's memories of his time in TV-land. The memories of Groundhog Day, Gabriel style, couldn't be erased, it was the beginning of their bond and Gabriel couldn't bring himself to make Sam forget, even though he had no idea what had occurred between them. But TV-land, at least most of it, could be forgotten without consequences. Yet in the end, Gabriel decided not to keep anything from Sam. The good, the bad, even the ugly; all of it made up the Sam Gabriel knew and… Well, Sam deserved everything.

Body remade, memories and emotions restored, all that was left was to put Sam's soul back into it. It contained the very essence of Sam, unique and non-reproducible, and was irreplaceable. With infinite care, Gabriel unwrapped the soul from his exhausted Grace and put it back into its rightful body. He saw Sam take a deep, first breath and his eyes started to move rapidly beneath his eyelids, indicating that not only was Sam merely asleep but also dreaming. Then Gabriel did something that hadn't happened since he'd pulled his Grace deep inside him and covered it with an artificial layer of Pagan God: he lost consciousness.

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Sam woke up, reluctant to open his eyes. For the first time in what felt like forever he had felt warm and comfortable. His dreams had been pleasant, but in that indistinct way that left him with only the feeling of being held and cherished but no real memory of what he was dreaming about. But the cold, hard ground beneath him was unforgiving and Sam opened his eyes. What he saw was an endless sea of blue, scattered here and there with a few white, fluffy clouds. He blinked a couple of times, to see if the image would change into ice or lightning, something he had grown familiar with during his time in the cage.

It didn't though, so Sam cautiously sat up and looked around. The graveyard he was in was familiar, though the leaves on the trees were turning yellow and red and brown, signifying autumn. It was cooler and Sam looked down, realizing that he was even in the same clothes he had been wearing when had said yes to the Devil. But all of that paled by the realization that not even a few feet from him, a still form lay face down. For a brief, heart stopping moment Sam thought it was Dean and that he was dead.

Cautiously, Sam crawled towards the man and rolled him over. He gaped in surprise at seeing the familiar face of Gabriel. The Trickster, an archangel. A dead Trickster and archangel. All of these thoughts flitted through Sam's mind before coming he came to rest on the one explanation that made any sense. Gabriel had obviously faked his death, yet again. The faint memory Sam had of leaving the cage, of flying away on waves of soft, gentle energy made sense now. Somehow, for some unfathomable reason, Gabriel had freed Sam.

Sam didn't know how much time had passed since jumped into Hell, but at the very least it had been a few months. It could just as easily be several years, though. Either way, they couldn't stay here and as long as Gabriel was unconscious, Sam wouldn't be getting any answers from him. Getting to his feet, Sam felt around for his wallet. He pulled it from his inner jacket pocket and checked the contents. It was the same as when he'd last seen it, right down to the three ten dollar bills and the five different credit cards, all in different names.

Not knowing what else to do, Sam retreated to closest thing he had to a home. He carried Gabriel's eerily still form to the nearest sleazy motel, where the clerk didn't even bat an eye when Sam came in with an unconscious man in his arms. He rented a room with two queens and soon after had Gabriel placed on one of the beds.

He laid down in the other bed himself, staring longingly at the phone. He wanted to call his brother, but knew it wasn't a good idea. Perhaps it had been years and Dean had gotten over his death. Who was he then to completely overthrow his brother's life? Besides, Dean would want answers that Sam just couldn't give him. No, it would be best if he waited until Gabriel was awake and had explained himself. With that thought in his head, Sam slid off into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, Sam was woken up by the sunlight filtering in through the ratty flower curtains. A quick look towards Gabriel showed that not only was the archangel still around, he was also still unconscious. Sliding out of bed, Sam went into the tiny bathroom and took what was probably the longest shower of his life. While soaping up his body, he marveled at the state of it. Falling down to the cage, his body had been burned away, not even leaving ashes behind. But now it was whole again, down to every last freckle and scar. From spending time with Castiel he knew that it had to have taken Gabriel a considerable amount of power to recreate his body to such levels of perfection. It was probably why the archangel was still unconscious.

Sam stayed under the spray until it started turning cold, which was surprisingly long for such a ratty place. After getting dried off and dressed, Sam decided breakfast was next on the agenda and, since Gabriel still hadn't woken up, a newspaper. That should at least give him some idea of what was going on as well as a date. Grabbing his jacket and the motel room key, Sam went out.

Two blocks away was a diner that not only served breakfast, it also had some newspapers lying around. After ordering pancakes and coffee, Sam grabbed one and checked the date. According to the paper, it was the seventh of October.

"Excuse me," Sam said as the waitress came with his breakfast. "Is this today's paper?"

"Yeah, it is," the waitress answered.

With a quiet thanks, Sam tucked into his breakfast. It had only been a few months. Would Dean have moved on already? Knowing his brother, probably not.

By the time Sam had finished his breakfast, paid for it, and got back to the motel, he'd made up his mind. Whether Gabriel was awake or not, he was calling Dean. Despite having made that decision, Sam was still disappointed when he entered and it became apparent that the archangel's condition hadn't changed at all. Shrugging off the disconcerting feeling something was really, really wrong, he grabbed the phone and called Lisa.

"Lisa Braeden speaking."

"Hey Lisa, it's Sam, could I talk to Dean?"

The pause that followed his request made Sam's gut squirm. Perhaps it hadn't been too bright an idea to introduce himself as Sam, Lisa probably knew enough about what had happened to know he was supposed to be dead.

"Dean's not here," the answer eventually came.

"Oh, well, uh," Sam stammered, not having counted on that. "Do you know when he'll be back?"

Another pause, then: "He hasn't been here for months. He came here back in May, but he only stayed for three days before leaving."

There was something in the tone of her voice, the way she said 'leaving' that made the hairs on the back of Sam's neck stand up. Something was wrong, there was more going on than Dean just leaving, but at the moment, Sam was more concerned with finding out where Dean was now than what had happened then.

"Do you know where he went?"

"He went to someone called Bobby," Lisa answered.

"Ok, thanks," Sam stammered before hanging up.

He put the phone back down on the receiver and sat down on the bed. Dean had gone to Bobby? Did Lisa mean he'd gone to Bobby's house? Or did it mean something more sinister, like Dean had killed himself or sold his soul again? But no, Dean would never do that. Would he? Or perhaps, a traitorous little voice inside Sam's head said, perhaps Bobby is alive. But Sam didn't dare contemplate that for too long, in fear of it not being true.

Either way, he was now convinced it wouldn't be a good idea to call Bobby's place. He'd have to provide too many answers that he just didn't have. Not to mention the awkward conversation with Lisa had convinced Sam that he needed to speak with Dean face to face. But that would have to wait until after Gabriel had awoken. The guy might be annoying and a pain in the ass, not to mention a two-timing lying bastard, but he'd also pulled Sam out of the cage for some reason or another. He couldn't just leave him to his fate. Not to mention Gabriel held the answers Sam needed.

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Gabriel woke up in a bed, which was nice he supposed, except for the little fact he didn't remember getting into a bed. The last he knew was losing consciousness in the graveyard after rebuilding Sam's body and returning his soul. Cautiously, he sat up and looked around. The motel room he was in was done in exceptionally poor taste. Faded flower curtains in front of the windows, some kind of faux-lime green wallpaper with pink roses on the wall and a sorry ass plastic red rose in an art-deco vase next to the decades old television gave away that he was with at least one of the Winchesters.

Sam must've taken him when he woke up, probably to get some answers. Well, Gabriel wasn't about to stay around for that. He had no intention whatsoever of explaining how or why he ended up saving Sam from Hell. Luckily, he was alone for now, but that probably wouldn't last long. He'd liked to have stayed around and see Sam alive and well before taking off, but he didn't dare take the risk of observing. The Winchesters had managed to find him out and trap him once before and this time they knew he had some part in all of this. No, it was simply too dangerous.

Gabriel snapped his fingers, more out of habit than anything else, but nothing happened. He frowned and flexed his wings. That was when it hit him. He couldn't feel his wings. In fact, he couldn't feel his Grace at all. The only thing that he could feel was the tiny bit of Grace imbedded into the link he had with Sam.

Before he had any time to think about it or panic, the door to the motel room opened and Sam stepped inside.

"Finally awake, I see," he said.

"Obviously," Gabriel said, hiding his confusion and fear behind the familiar persona of Loki.

"So, considering you've stuck around, I'm assuming you're actually going to tell me what's going on?"

Gabriel snorted and managed to throw Sam a look that hopefully looked suitably arrogant. Considering that Sam had crossed his arms and was leaning against the door that was currently Gabriel's only way out of the room, he didn't really have much of a choice.

"Not sure how much I can tell you," Gabriel said.

"Oh, how about you start with how you faked your death this time?" Sam said, sarcasm dripping from every word.

Well, that explained the hostility then. Typical really, do something right, get killed and they still think you'd betrayed them. Although Gabriel had to admit, Sam more than anyone had a right to be suspicious. With a sigh, resigned to the fact he really had to explain, he sat down on the bed.

"I didn't," he said. "I made my stand, not that it did any good, and got killed for my trouble. Next thing I know, I wake up in a field, completely whole. Except for the fact that the soul of my vessel is no longer in this body, that is. Typical resurrection."

Sam had lost the hostile look on his face and now came into the room proper, grabbing a seat on one of the chairs.

"So you were really dead?" he questioned.

"Yes, I was," Gabriel said.

"So why did you decide to rescue me? And when were you resurrected?"

"How long have I been unconscious?" Gabriel asked.

"About a week," Sam answered.

That surprised Gabriel, although he didn't show it. Last time he'd lost consciousness, it had only been for a couple of hours and only after he had twisted his Grace to be able to lock it away so he could escape detection. It probably had something to do with losing his Grace, although now he was trying to figure out how he was actually still alive without it.

"Well, then I was resurrected about a week ago. Probably two if you take into account how long we spent down in the cage," he said.

"So you what, woke up and immediately decided to rescue me?" Sam scoffed.

"Didn't exactly do it on purpose, princess," Gabriel said. "I had no idea how long I'd been dead, still don't, really. Didn't know what happened with Luci either, but I figured you and your brother would know. And maybe you could still use my help."

"You've been dead for about four months," Sam said. "The Apocalypse had finished by the time you were resurrected."

"Yeah, I figured that," Gabriel said.

But the time he'd spend being dead threw him for a loop. Why had his father waited so long to resurrect him? Not doing it during the Apocalypse he could understand, somewhat. He'd not been allowed to help, had done his part and chosen right. It was all very confusing, but that was dear old Dad for you. Always plans within plans, but no explanations.

"Anyway," Gabriel continued. "Like I said, I was going to you, so I transported myself to your location. Didn't exactly know you were in the cage, now did I? And when I ended up there, I figured I might as well take you with me when I left."

"And what about Adam?" Sam asked.

"Adam?"

"He was Michael's vessel, Dean and my half-brother."

Ah, that would explain the Winchester stubbornness he'd seen in the burnt-out soul down there. Gabriel was honest enough to admit to himself he'd feared it was Dean. If it had been, he doubted Sam would have ever really recovered from losing his brother.

"I'm sorry, but he was completely burned out," Gabriel said. "There was nothing I could do for him."

An uneasy silence fell between them for a moment. Several things popped into Gabriel's head to break it, but none of it was really appropriate. Normally he still would have said it, but without his Grace he was completely dependent on Sam's good will.

"Can Lucifer or Michael get out of the cage?" Sam suddenly asked, constrained panic in his voice.

"No, they can't. I fixed the cage when we left," Gabriel reassured him.

Sam relaxed again and silence fell once more, but much more relaxed this time. But Gabriel still had no idea what had happened with the Apocalypse, except for the fact that it had been stopped somehow. Not to mention that he wanted to know how Sam had ended up as Lucifer's vessel and eventually in the cage, with Michael no less.

"So, care to share how you came to be in the cage?" Gabriel asked. "I must say, I didn't expect you to ever say yes."

"I wouldn't have," Sam agreed. "But it was part of the plan."

Sam started telling Gabriel all that had happened since he'd died, which had Gabriel cringing internally several times. It was unbelievable, but it sounded as if the Winchester brothers had stopped the Apocalypse through sheer dumb luck.

"The last I know is that Lucifer killed Castiel and Bobby, then started to beat Dean to death," Sam said. "Then I finally got control back and jumped into the hole. Michael showed up at the last second, trying to stop me, so I grabbed him and pulled him in with me."

Gabriel's head was reeling with everything Sam had just told him, but the thing he kept getting stuck on was Castiel's death. The one brother he'd maybe had a fighting chance of getting along with was gone. He'd figured he could get away from Sam and then call Castiel for help, but that plan was out for obvious reasons.

"I tried calling Dean," Sam said. "I thought he'd be with Lisa, since he'd promised me he'd go there, but he'd already left. She said he went to Bobby's."

Sam was getting excited now, pacing around and gesturing with his hands. Gabriel pulled his mind from his own problems, trying to follow why Sam was getting all worked up.

"I thought she meant Dean had gone to Bobby's house, but now that you're back from the dead and all, maybe she really did mean he'd gone to Bobby!"

Gabriel got what Sam was getting at. He thought perhaps Bobby had been resurrected as well. He could very well be right and if that was the case, then perhaps Castiel had also been saved by their Father.

"So, I'll just get packed and then we can go," Sam said, already starting to grab the few things strewn around the room.

"Go where?" Gabriel asked.

"To Bobby's off course," Sam said. "Surely you can drop me off there before you go, well, wherever it is you're planning on going."

"That's going to be harder than it sounds," Gabriel said, resigned to the fact he was going to have to come clean with Sam.

"What do you mean?"

Gabriel briefly considering coming up with some wild story as to why he couldn't fly Sam to Bobby's. But all the Winchesters had some sort of built in bullshit detector and Gabriel wasn't sure if he could get away with it. Finally, he let out a sigh and decided to go with a partial truth.

"It seems like I've lost my Grace for the moment."

SPNSPNSPNSPN

After a trip of close to fifteen hours by bus, Gabriel was certain of one thing: if he was stuck as a human, he was going to get a car as soon as possible. He'd steal it if he had to, but never again would he go anywhere on a bus. It was cramped, he was surrounded by humans he couldn't care less about and it gave him way too much time to dwell on everything that was wrong in his life now. But most of all, it reminded him of what he'd lost. He was human now, he guessed. Just like every other poor sucker on the bus.

Gabriel might not have admitted he was an angel for centuries, but he'd always been one. And now, suddenly, he wasn't. It hurt and he had no idea what to do. Going to Bobby scared him far more than he wanted to admit. Sam was so occupied with being alive and getting to Dean he wasn't asking a lot of questions. The older hunter though, he'd start asking questions Gabriel didn't want to answer even in his own head.

Considering the fact that Sam was far taller than Gabriel, and thus had to contort himself even more into a pretzel to sit on the bus, you'd have thought the guy would walk a little stiff and slow once they got to Sioux Falls. However, Sam was walking like the fires of hell still burned behind him and when the sign for Singer Salvage Yard came into view, Gabriel had to almost run to keep up with him.

Not that Gabriel didn't understand where Sam's impatience stemmed from. Sam had not been happy at all to hear Gabriel couldn't just pop them over. He'd asked some sharp questions about Gabriel's Grace, which Gabriel had managed to lie convincingly about, just saying he must have damaged his Grace very badly by pulling Sam from the cage. The lies sounded hollow to his own ears, but Sam bought them. Although he was probably helped by the fact that Sam was so focused on getting to Dean. He dreaded the moment Sam would once again focus on him, although he wanted it too.

It had taken Sam one night to hustle enough money to get both of them bus tickets to Sioux Falls, but even that had almost been too much for Sam's patience. The long hours in the bus hadn't made it any better. Gabriel had started out by talking to Sam, okay, annoying Sam. He'd gradually stopped teasing and started talking about anything that came to mind, just to take his mind off the ache that his missing Grace had left behind. The first few hours Sam had responded, asked questions about all things angelic. Gabriel had answered them as much as he could. Strangely enough, talking about it felt both good and hurt at the same time. But by the end of the trip, Sam had enough of Gabriel's almost-monologue and he'd had kept his mouth shut in order to avoid being decked. Before, Sam would've just broken his hand, but without his Grace and still feeling like shit, Gabriel hadn't been too keen on trying out if that was still the case.

The moment they stepped onto Bobby's property, they spotted Dean. He was sitting on the ground with a beer bottle in hand, his back resting against the Impala which was covered in dust and dirt. The ground around him was littered with empty beer bottles and two new six-packs stood close by. It was obvious before he even opened his mouth that he was drunk.

"You're new," he slurred, pointing at Gabriel.

"New?" Gabriel asked dumbly.

He had no idea what Dean meant. Surely the guy would still recognize him, he'd freaking gave up his life for their cause! Next to him, Sam was staring at his brother, tears in the corners of his eyes. He looked rooted into place now that he was in touching distance of his brother. Considering said brother hadn't even acknowledged him yet, it wasn't a weird reaction. Gabriel felt like decking Dean, but the guy looked miserable as it was and besides, he wasn't sure if he could take Dean. He'd never had to fight without his angelic powers backing him up.

"Yeah. Him, him I'm used to seeing," Dean said, gesturing towards Sam with his beer bottle. "Dead angels, though, that's new."

Well, that explained Dean's lack of reaction. He thought they weren't real. Of course, as long as he was drunk off his ass, there really was no convincing him otherwise. Which meant they had to face Bobby sooner rather than later. Not something Gabriel was looking forward to.

"Dean," Sam choked out. "We're real, I'm really here."

Dean didn't respond, just closed his eyes. Sam took a step forward, but Gabriel stopped him from getting closer with a hand on his arm. His heart went out to the brothers. Not because of Dean, oh no, he didn't care squat about him. But he was important to Sam, so that made him important to Gabriel. Unfortunately, being drunk and delusional was not something Gabriel could cure anymore with the snap of a finger.

"Don't bother," he said. "As long as he's this drunk, you'll never convince him you're real."

Sam looked at him, heartbreak in his eyes, but acquiesced with a nod. They turned and walked towards the house. Behind their backs, Dean was muttering about freaking angels leaving him. Gabriel figured he was talking more about Castiel than himself, but the ramblings didn't give him enough information to figure out if Castiel was still dead or merely back in Heaven. He hoped it was the latter. He might not be an angel anymore, but Castiel was still his brother and perhaps the only one who might understand him. And if there was any hope of Gabriel getting his Grace back, Castiel would have to help.

It was with a feeling of dread that Gabriel walked into Bobby Singer's house. To be quite honest, he expected all kinds of accusations and perhaps a bullet in the chest. All things considered, though, Bobby reacted quite calmly. Shocked as hell, of course, but that didn't last long. Before he knew it, Gabriel was looking down the barrel of a shotgun. It made him uncomfortably aware that if Bobby would pull the trigger, he'd be dead again.

"Bobby, it's us," Sam said. "It's really us. I'm me again."

His voice shook and Gabriel realized Sam had not dared to hope Bobby was really alive, just as he didn't dare hope Castiel was truly alive.

"What happened?" Bobby asked.

Sam quickly explained. The shotgun never wavered, but the older hunter's eyes began to tear up. Gabriel was uncomfortably aware that he was intruding on a family moment. It made the ache for his own family, suppressed for so long, even more acute.

"Did Castiel get resurrected as well?" Gabriel asked as soon as Sam was done talking.

"Yeah, he did," Bobby answered. "He's back in Heaven."

Gabriel's legs went weak with relief. His little brother was all right. He didn't dare hope he would be as well.

"I still need to test you," Bobby said, mainly to Sam although Gabriel was included as well. "Can't take any chances."

"No, of course, Bobby," Sam said. "I don't mind."

"How do you expect to test an angel, nitwit?" Gabriel said haughtily, just because it was expected of him.

Bobby decided that, angel or no angel, Gabriel still had to drink holy water with a pinch of salt and touch some silver and walk out of a demon trap. It didn't take long for Bobby was satisfied, though. Well, not for Gabriel, at any rate. The battery of tests he subjected Sam to did take long and Gabriel didn't stick around for that.

He went back outside, relieved that Bobby hadn't tested him further and not wanting to tempt fate. He had no idea what losing his Grace had done to him, exactly, and if Bobby had been able to cut him or hurt him in any other way, there'd be a lot of explaining he didn't want to do.

Dean had fallen asleep or was unconscious against the Impala. The strain of life was clearly visible on Dean's face. Most would've said it was the Apocalypse that put the lines and dark smudges under his eyes on Dean's face. Gabriel knew better. It was all Sam. Sam playing host to Lucifer, Sam being lost to Hell. Gabriel walked over to Dean and crouched down beside him.

"Your brother is safe. He has returned to you, whole and free of taint. Rejoice," he whispered in Dean's ear.

Once he'd been able to do this with the power of his Grace behind him. He'd been God's messenger, one of the few angels who'd actually heard their Father's voice. This was just a facsimile of his old purpose, but he felt better for having done so. And perhaps Dean's subconscious picked something up nonetheless.

When Bobby and Sam came out of the house both had the telltale signs of tears on their face. It was clear Bobby had been satisfied that Sam was one hundred percent human. Gabriel hadn't told Sam, but when he'd rebuilt his body, he'd left out any trace of demon blood. He wasn't even sure he could've reproduced what Azazel had done all those years ago, but even if he could, he would not tolerate demon blood in someone he was bonded with. Not if he could help it. Sam was his, not Azazel's.

It was Bobby who picked up Dean to put him in bed so he could sober up. Sam kept watch over his brother the entire night, while Gabriel kept watch over Sam. He was tired but unwilling to show them he needed sleep. Bobby looked at him searchingly when he announced he was staying for now, but didn't protest or question. Not yet anyway.

When daylight came and Dean started showing signs of waking up, Gabriel went for a walk. By the time he returned, the brothers had their lovey-dovey reunion behind them, if he was lucky. Not only did he not want to witness such cloyingly sweet moments, he was also uncomfortably aware he wouldn't be wanted at what was basically a family reunion. If he was really lucky, Sam might have even taken the time to explain about Gabriel so he wouldn't have to. No need to give himself away, for if anyone could detect bullshit like Gabriel had been sprouting for the last few days, it was Dean Winchester.

SPNSPNSPNSPN

The damn thing about having Dean and Sam reunited again was that the attention shifted from them to Gabriel. Inevitably the topic of Gabriel's Grace came up, exactly like Gabriel had feared. It was Sam who first made a remark about Gabriel's supposedly damaged Grace in Bobby's earshot. Bobby remarked it should've healed by now. The damn hunter knew too damn much about angels and their Grace, it seemed.

Dean was eager to call for Castiel as a solution, but Gabriel was convinced it had more to do with the guy's puppy love for his brother than with actually helping him. Still, two days after arriving at Bobby's, Gabriel was reunited with his brother. He'd been eager to meet Castiel again, now that they were both on the same page, but now the time had come and Gabriel couldn't feel anything but dread. This was it, after this there would be no lying about his Grace anymore, not even to himself.

"I am glad Father saw fit to resurrect you as well," Castiel said.

They'd been left alone at Castiel's request. The small guestroom they were in was too cramped for Gabriel's tastes. It left him with nowhere to go, nowhere to escape to, away from his brother's piercing gaze. Once Gabriel had been able to shield himself from even Michael, but now he felt uncomfortably exposed.

"Guess picking the winning side has its advantages," he said jauntily.

Castiel just looked at him, seeing through his facade as easily as Gabriel used to look into the souls of men. Now, all he could see was Sam's soul and then only by focusing on their bond. It's something Gabriel missed more than he thought he would. He longed to reach out to Castiel, to make that connection, know what went on behind the stony face that his brother was so good at pulling.

"I do not believe your Grace has not yet healed," Castiel said, grave and serious and fucking threatening. "What is your purpose in lying to the Winchesters?"

Gabriel sighed and sat down on the bed. Figured his brother would see through his lies so easily. He couldn't blame Castiel for being suspicious. He'd done nothing but lie and deceive for the last few millennia, so it isn't like he had a good reputation. But admitting the lie meant acknowledging all that he'd lost. It was harder than he thought it would be. For so long he'd played at not being an angel, but now that he really wasn't an angel anymore, he could hardly get the words out of his mouth.

Gabriel raised his face to meet the steady gaze of his brother, sure it expressed his despair, and saw surprise flit through Castiel's eyes, however briefly. Sadly, he thought about the fact that he should have seen Castiel's Grace change with his surprise, but he could barely even feel his brother. The connection to his brethren had been broken so long ago by himself and now that he finally wanted it back, he couldn't make it. It was the irony to end all ironies.

"You're right, it's not damaged," Gabriel said. "It's just not there anymore."

Only the slight widening of Castiel's eyes gave away his surprise. Gabriel gave his brother a bitter smile, aware of what exactly he was saying. Painfully aware that he should not even exist anymore and unsure if he wanted to exist without his Grace.

"Impossible, you would not survive without your Grace."

"It's not there," Gabriel reiterated bleakly.

"May I?" Castiel asked.

Gabriel nodded, knowing what his brother intended to do. Castiel stepped closer and placed two fingers on his forehead. Gabriel closed his eyes and when he opened them again he was standing next to Castiel in a rocky, barren plain.

"Told you," Gabriel managed to choke out through his grief.

Once this place had been beautiful. His Grace had filled it with lush green meadows filled with lilies. Now it was desolate and barren, a mute testimony to the fact that his Grace had gone. In the far distance, a rocky outcrop protected the one remaining lily that signified the tiny piece of his vast Grace he'd gifted to Sam. In the blink of an eye, they stood beside it.

"I had wondered how Samuel could have subverted Lucifer after giving consent," Castiel said softly. "This would explain it. The gift of your Grace must have given him enough strength to push Lucifer aside."

"Yes, and with such wonderful results," Gabriel said sarcastically.

He wasn't comfortable at all with Castiel examining his bond with Sam. Nor did he wish to remain here, where the truth was so evident. He wished his brother would just acknowledge what was so obvious and get out, so he could grieve alone for all that he lost.

"You cannot see it, can you?" Castiel asked.

"See what?"

"Your Grace, Gabriel. It is everywhere around us."

"You're insane," Gabriel snapped, but he couldn't stop the blossoming hope that not all was lost.

Another blink of his eyes and he was back in his vessel, no, his body now. Castiel was smiling at him, compassion, understanding, and a touch of relief in his eyes. So his little brother had been afraid Gabriel had damaged himself irrevocably after all. Good to know at least one member of his family still cared about him.

"Your Grace is still there, not even damaged," he said before Gabriel had to ask. "You've just lost access to it."

"Great," Gabriel grumbled.

He knew exactly what that meant. It happened sometimes when angels went through a severe trauma and lost sight of who they were. It had been a prevalent condition after the war where Lucifer was cast out of Heaven. Angels that didn't know what to think anymore, bonds between parents and fledglings broken beyond repair, mates choosing opposite sides. All of it had caused misery and repression, breaking the links to angels' Graces in all layers of Heaven.

Gabriel cursed softly. There was really only one possible solution to it and they both knew it. But that didn't mean he had to like it. Hard was an understatement and Gabriel could think of a few things he would have to face in order to reconnect to his Grace.

"You should ask Sam to go with you," Castiel said.

Gabriel just gave his brother a look that conveyed just how crazy he thought Castiel was for suggestion that. So it would make it somewhat easier. Okay, a whole lot easier. But there was no way Sam was going to agree to go on a romp through Gabriel's very being in search of his Grace, no matter how much Gabriel wanted it now that Castiel had suggested it. And even if, by some miracle, Sam agreed, there was no way freaking Dean Winchester would. He said as much to his brother.

"Leave Dean to me," Castiel answered. "Just get Sam to agree to go with you."

SPNSPNSPNSPN

As it turned out, it wasn't Dean who was difficult to convince. Castiel merely took him apart and had a quick, whispered conversation with him. Five minutes later Dean announced that he'd abide by Sam's decision. Which left Gabriel the task of getting Sam to agree.

Gabriel found him outside on the porch, watching the sun setting below the horizon. The low light framed him and Gabriel watched his fill. Shaggy hair, washed up shirt and jeans, nothing special, yet Gabriel could look at him endlessly. Say whatever you wanted about Sam Winchester, ugly he was not. Eventually though, much to Gabriel's disappointment, Sam noticed him standing in the doorway and turned to face him.

"What did Castiel say?" Sam asked.

Gabriel stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind him. He didn't want an audience for this, as he anticipated having to beg. And he hated begging. He'd done it to try and persuade his brothers not to fight and it hadn't helped. He doubted it would help this time, but if he didn't at least try, Castiel was sadistic enough to send him out to try again.

"I haven't lost or even damaged my Grace," Gabriel said. "But I can't access it."

"Sounds serious."

"It is," Gabriel admitted. "It happens sometimes when angels experience a great trauma."

"But it can be fixed, right?"

The question was asked with a combination of concern and a naïve hopefulness that there was a solution for everything that Gabriel was honestly surprised still existed in Sam. It was the concern that warmed Gabriel and gave him hope that Sam might actually agree to Castiel's crazy plan.

"In theory, yes. I have to go into my subconscious to look for it, take a trip down memory lane, as it were."

"Memory lane?"

He knew he was stalling, not asking what he was really here for. But Gabriel didn't want to cut this conversation short. It was the one of the few times he talked with Sam while the other man was completely relaxed and Gabriel liked it. He was loath to put an end to it, so instead of asking Sam about joining him, he answered his question.

"Losing connection with your Grace is sort of like cutting off a part of yourself. It happens when an angel doesn't know who they are anymore."

"But you know who you are," Sam said confused.

"Yes and no. I know I am Gabriel. I know intellectually who I am." Gabriel hesitated, unsure if he wanted to explain further. His condition, it was personal, far more personal than he normally shared with anyone. But if he ever wanted Sam to come with him, he had no choice. "Emotionally, though, I'm rejecting parts of myself. I am not fully excepting of myself."

Sam still looked a bit confused, but apparently decided to not ask for more explanation. Gabriel wondered how uncomfortable he looked that Sam would stop himself from inquiring further, but was grateful nonetheless.

"So how do you fix that?" Sam asked

"I'll have to face myself, literally, and accept all that I am."

A silence fell between them. Sam was back to looking at the sky, riddled with stars now. Gabriel knew the next move was his, yet he didn't want to break the companionable calm between them. He huffed out a derisive snort. If he was lying to himself even now, it was highly unlikely he'd ever reconnect with his Grace. He saw why Castiel was so insistent on him taking someone along.

"I would like your help," Gabriel said softly.

Sam, who'd looked at him when he snorted, was visibly surprised.

"With what?"

He wasn't hostile, but he was cautious. Gabriel couldn't blame him. Angels hadn't exactly been kind to Sam, including him.

"This trip I need to take, into my subconscious, it's hard," Gabriel admitted. "It is even harder on my own. I'd like for you to go with me, to help me find my Grace."

"Why me? Why not Castiel?" Sam asked, sounding confused and wary.

"Castiel can still connect with my Grace, he doesn't notice it's lost. So he can't help me find it," Gabriel admitted, though it was only part of the truth. Another reason was Castiel's bond with Dean, but that was not something that was Gabriel's to share.

"All right, I can see why he wouldn't be able to help. But why me?" Sam pressed for an answer.

Gabriel studiously avoided looking at Sam. Perhaps if he didn't see the look on Sam's face, the rejection wouldn't hit him so hard.

"Normally an angel has no choice but to do this alone," Gabriel said, knowing he was stalling. "But when an angel has a bond with someone, like a parent or a mate, then through that bond, that person can help."

"So you're saying we what? Have a bond?"

Sam sounded angry. Gabriel closed his eyes in misery and gave a short nod. He'd known Sam was going to react like this, but that didn't make it hurt any less. The tiny piece of Grace he still had access to, due to his bond with Sam, wilted under the anger pouring in over the bond.

"How in the hell did we get bonded? What did you do to me?" Sam screamed.

"When you begged me to turn back time, give Dean his life back," Gabriel answered, desperate to make Sam understand. "At that time, I was in my role as Loki. Your plea and my granting it formed a tentative bond between us, as is normal between a Pagan God and a subject. But because I am not a true Pagan God, the bond was made with my Grace."

Gabriel paused, hoping it would be enough of an answer for Sam. But the angry silence that emanated from him dashed those hopes. More tentative, he forged on with his explanation.

"When I came into the cage, the first thing I saw after Michael and Lucifer was Adam's soul. Since I'd followed the bond to you, I thought it was your soul. There was nothing I could do to help, so I poured some of my Grace towards you to ease your suffering. That strengthened the bond, as did me healing your soul."

Gabriel hoped Sam wouldn't draw the connection between their situation and Castiel and Dean's. Thankfully, Sam decided to focus on something else. Not that Gabriel was happy with that either.

"You followed the bond?"

The accusation was clear in Sam's voice. Gabriel cringed internally, he did not want to talk about this any longer. Sam was getting way too close to certain personal matters Gabriel had no intention of sharing with anyone, least of all the man in front of him. But at least there was a valid explanation for this one.

"I figured that you two would be in the midst of whatever was going on with the Apocalypse. But Castiel did a great job of hiding you from angel eyes, so the bond was the only way to find you."

"Oh, right, forgot about that," Sam said, apparently mollified by Gabriel's answer and no longer sounding angry.

Gabriel took in Sam's body language, which was no longer angry, but there was none of the relaxation of before their conversation.

"So will you help me?" Gabriel asked, trying to keep the resentment he had to repeat it out of his voice.

"I'm not … I'm just not comfortable doing this," Sam said. "You can do this without me right?"

It wasn't like Gabriel hadn't expected the answer, but it still hurt. He didn't let on that it did, had no intention at showing Sam how much power he had over Gabriel.

"Yes, I can. It will be more difficult, but it can be done," Gabriel said.

It didn't come out as uncaring as he'd hoped, but it was good enough that his voice had stayed even. He supposed the time to beg had come, but Sam's rejection wasn't out of spite or anger. He just wasn't comfortable doing this and Gabriel knew no amount of begging would make Sam more comfortable. So he decided not to.

He walked up to where Sam was leaning against the porch railing and looked up at the stars. They were still as beautiful as ever. Gabriel had become enamored with them the very first time he'd been on Earth, still in his Father's service. He missed them when he was in Heaven and sometimes thought that if he could've seen them from his home, he might not have been so ready to leave. Looking at them was his escape, one he thankfully made use of now.

The silence between them became less strained as they spent more time looking at the stars. Gabriel knew he should go in and report Sam's answer to Castiel, but he was reluctant to do so. If his brother thought he had not spent enough time trying to convince Sam, Gabriel would just be directed to try again. So he stayed where he was by Sam's side.

Eventually, it was Sam that broke the silence.

"I expected you to mention hell," Sam said softly.

Gabriel shifted his gaze from the stars to Sam, who was still looking up.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "You expected me to threaten you with going to hell for not helping me?

"No," Sam shook his head and looked at Gabriel. "I expected you to remind me that it was you who saved me from hell."

"Blackmail," Gabriel said with a flat voice.

So that's what Sam thought of him. That hurt even more than Sam refusing to help him in the first place.

"Castiel threw hell in Dean's face, back when Dean wasn't prepared to listen to him," Sam said. "So yeah, I expected you to do the same."

That little tidbit surprised Gabriel. He hadn't thought his little brother capable of such a cruel act, but then again, he'd only really met Castiel after he'd already defected from Heaven. This must have been before that.

"Well, I didn't," Gabriel said. "And I won't."

"Yeah, I realize," Sam said. "So what do we need to do to get you connected to your Grace again?"

"I have Castiel take me to the beginning point, then start my search," Gabriel said. "Wait, did you just say we?"" Surely he must've heard it wrong?

"Yeah," Sam said.

"Why did you change your mind?"

"Because you didn't make me."

With that answer, Sam went inside, leaving a confused but happy Gabriel out on the porch.

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Sam laid down next to Gabriel on Bobby's bed. He wasn't exactly comfortable lying there, but it was the only double bed in the house. He nearly jumped straight back out of bed when Gabriel gripped his hand.

"Relax, princess, we just need to be connected physically," Gabriel said.

It didn't sound nearly as sarcastic as Sam was expecting. He supposed Gabriel was nervous as well. After all, there was a lot more at stake for the guy than for Sam. Nervous about all of this, but not unsure in his decision to help Gabriel, he looked over at where Dean was leaning against the wall. His brother had his arms folded in front of his chest and watched everything that was going on with eagle eyes, but there was no hint of disagreement to be found in them. If his brother wasn't really behind this, than he was hiding it really well.

Sam had honestly expected Dean to protest his decision and when he didn't he'd been confused and a little hurt Dean didn't seem to care. Gabriel had somehow know it was bothering him and told him out of Dean's earshot that Castiel had talked Dean into it. Sam would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.

Castiel stepped into Sam's field of vision, bending over them to touch two fingers to Gabriel's forehead. Sam blinked and in that blink of an eye everything around him had changed. He was still holding Gabriel's hand, but was no longer lying on Bobby's bed. Hell, he wasn't even in the bedroom anymore. Instead, they were standing in what appeared to be a rock desert. It stretched out as far as the eye could see, with a deep canyon to their left. Up ahead was a rocky outcrop, where a single lily stood, miraculously surviving in this barren wasteland.

"Where are we?"

"We are in my, well, Grace-scape," Gabriel said, for lack of a better word. "It's similar to a human's dreamscape, only this is where my Grace resides. But as you can see, I'm not seeing it, even though Castiel assures me it's here."

Gabriel sounded sad and although Sam desperately wanted to know more, wanted to know what he'd gotten himself into, he kept his questions to himself.

"Okay, so what do we do now?" he said, deciding to focus on the practical aspects right now.

"We jump," Gabriel said.

Before Sam had time to ask what Gabriel meant by that, the angel pulled him over to the edge of the canyon. Sam was beginning to understand what Gabriel had meant when he said jump and desperately tried to pry his hand out of the guy's iron grip.

"Now, wait a minute," Sam started.

"Relax, princess," Gabriel said, causing Sam to grit his teeth at the nickname. "Things around here work differently than in the real world."

In the next moment, Gabriel jumped down, pulling Sam with him. For what seemed like an eternity they were falling, the next moment they were standing in a familiar location. Sam hadn't even had the time to shout out.

"Luci, I'm home," Gabriel called out.

Only, it wasn't his Gabriel, who was still standing next to him, looking at the tableau in front of him without much surprise. The other Gabriel was the one from Sam's memories of the Elysian Fields Hotel. Sam realized they were looking at a memory of Gabriel, he'd even spotted Dean and himself hiding behind a table, but his gut still churned with fear as he watched Lucifer approach memory-Gabriel.

"What's this?" he asked Gabriel, while the memory continued to play out before him.

"A defining moment in who I am, yet am not accepting," Gabriel said, his eyes focused on himself.

Sam went back to watching. Lucifer was insulting humanity, nothing new there. Gabriel's next words were new for him, though, as he hadn't been around to hear them.

"Lucifer, you're my brother and I love you. But you are a great, big bag of dicks."

Sam had to smother his laughter at that. Go Gabriel, he thought. But Gabriel was looking anything but amused. He looked pained. Memory-Gabriel continued to speak, accusing Lucifer of having a temper tantrum. From what Gabriel had said about God loving Lucifer best until humanity came, he might actually be right.

"Gabriel, if you're doing this for Michael," Lucifer said.

"Screw him!" Memory-Gabriel said. "If he were standing here, I'd shiv his ass too."

"You disloyal…" Lucifer started.

Sam looked on, interested but confused. Lucifer seemed to be insulted that Gabriel wasn't fighting for Michael. Shouldn't he be happy about that?

"Oh, I'm loyal. To them," memory-Gabriel declared.

"Who?" Lucifer said. "To these so-called Gods?"

Sam saw Lucifer circling, trying to find a weak spot in Gabriel's defenses. He kept waiting for the final blow to be delivered, as he knew Gabriel was going to die. But Gabriel wasn't letting any holes drop. This was no Trickster standing before Lucifer, this was Gabriel the archangel in his full glory.

"To people, Lucifer. People."

Sam chanced a quick look away from the scene to Gabriel. He'd known Gabriel had stood up against Lucifer, but Sam honestly hadn't thought he'd done it because he agreed with them. He'd figured Gabriel had just wanted to save Kali. Gabriel still looked pained and Sam wondered what it was about the scene that bothered him so much.

"So you're willing to die for a pile of cockroaches? Why?"

Lucifer asked the question Sam wanted to know the answer to, albeit in a slightly more condescending way than he would've put it. Sam refocused on the memory playing out again, not wanting to miss the answer, provided Gabriel had given one.

"Because Dad was right. They are better than us."

"They are broken, flawed abortions," Lucifer shouted at memory-Gabriel.

"Damn right they're flawed," memory-Gabriel admitted. "But a lot of them try … to do better, to forgive. And you should see the Spearmint Rhino."

Of course Gabriel had to add that last remark, but Sam was impressed by what Gabriel had revealed here. It also brought home a point Sam hadn't considered yet. Gabriel was sharing a whole lot of himself with Sam by taking him on this trip. He just didn't know what to make of that yet.

It was then that Sam noticed Gabriel, yet another Gabriel, sneaking up on Lucifer from behind.

"I've been riding the pine a long time," first memory-Gabriel said. "But I'm in the game now and I'm not on your side or on Michael's. I'm on theirs."

Sam was beginning to suspect that it was a false Gabriel, a construct like he'd used against the Winchesters, but the words it spoke rang true.

"Brother, don't make me do this," Lucifer whispered.

Sam was taken aback by the feelings Lucifer displayed. He'd known nothing but falsehoods and cruelty from him, but here stood a guy that Sam could believe had once been an angel, a good guy.

"No one makes us do anything," fake-Gabriel responded.

"I know you think you're doing the right thing, Gabriel," Lucifer said. "But I know where your heart truly lies."

In that instance, the real Gabriel in the memory decided to strike, but Lucifer was too quick. He turned around, caught the blow that would have killed him and struck the sword into Gabriel's abdomen. The construct dissolved and Lucifer gripped Gabriel's face, which was contorted in pain. Sam moved closer to hear what Lucifer was saying.

"Amateur hocus-pocus. Don't forget, you learned all your tricks from me, little brother."

The memory ended abruptly, bringing them back to the barren plain.

"What just happened?" Sam asked dazed.

"I died," Gabriel said in a flat voice. "Memory stops when you die."

"So now what?" Sam asked, half expecting they'd have to jump into another memory.

"Now I need to accept what happened there," Gabriel said.

"So, you need to accept that you died?"

Gabriel shook his head, but made no further comments. He walked towards the single lily, crouching down besides it. He reached out with his hand, but stopped just shy of actually touching it. He didn't seem very interested in figuring out what he needed to accept.

Sam let his thoughts go over the memory. He couldn't really figure out what else there was to accept besides Gabriel dying. There was, however, a comment from Lucifer Sam wanted to know more about. He figured he might as well ask, seeing as he had nothing else to offer as help.

"What did Lucifer mean when he said he'd taught you all your tricks?"

Gabriel flinched, actually flinched, at the question. Perhaps Sam was closer to the real reason they'd viewed the memory than he'd thought.

"Our Father creates angels, we all come from him," Gabriel said. "But we aren't born knowing everything. We know a lot, but not all. The angel created before you is the one that teaches you. He is like a parent."

"And Lucifer taught you," Sam said, finally understanding what was bothering Gabriel about the memory. "Just like Dean taught me everything, hell, practically raised me."

Sam could remember the horror he'd felt at seeing the shapeshifter that looked like Dean dead, even knowing it wasn't really his brother. He remembered Dean's anguish when he'd made him promise to kill Sam should he go dark. All this time, he'd thought it was so easy, what they'd asked of Gabriel. Stand up against the Devil, stop the Apocalypse. But in their quest to save humanity they'd forgotten that what they were really asking was for Gabriel to kill his big brother.

"I'm sorry," Sam said.

"For what?" Gabriel asked, standing back up and facing Sam.

"We never should've demanded that you take a stand. That would be like asking me to kill Dean," Sam explained. "It wasn't fair."

Gabriel gave Sam a sad smile.

"No, it wasn't," he said.

The words hit Sam like a blow. It was sometimes so easy to forget that angels, for all they showed a stoic face, did feel things just as deeply as humans did. Deeper perhaps, for they had many more years to build relationships than humans ever had.

"But like I said, nobody makes us do anything, Sam," Gabriel said. "I picked a side, one I knew I'd pick a long time ago. The time of talking had passed millennia ago."

Sam gave Gabriel a small smile. The angel had indeed chosen a side and it had truly been their side. Not Michael's, not the Pagan Gods', no, humanity.

"Thanks," Sam said softly.

He turned away from Gabriel, feeling uneasy about the myriad of feelings churning in Gabriel's eyes. He'd never seen the angel so exposed and Sam wasn't sure how he felt about it. Looking out over the rocky plain, Sam noticed that here and there tufts of grass had appeared.

"Hey, is that?"

"Yes, part of my Grace," Gabriel answered. "I've come to terms with this memory."

"Time for the next one?" Sam asked.

Gabriel didn't respond with words, just nodded and took Sam's hand again. He was expecting them to go back to the canyon, but instead Gabriel pulled him straight at the rock face. Sam reflexively closed his eyes and when he opened them again, he was in a woodland clearing. Big spruce trees surrounded them and in the middle of the clearing stood a large stone altar. It was twilight and in the silence of the wood, humming could be heard.

"What's this?" Sam asked.

"Norway, sixth century," Gabriel said shortly. "Migration period."

SPNSPNSPNSPN

The air was crisp and cool. Gabriel knew that when the sun would come up in less than an hour, it would be a gorgeous day. But Gabriel couldn't enjoy it, just like he hadn't been able to all those centuries ago. He had many memories just like this one and he'd tried to forget them all. But this was the first time and Gabriel has never been able to forget, nor forgive himself.

The lights of torches were now visible between the trees and the humming was getting closer. Before long, the men carrying them would get into view and Sam would start to understand just how far he'd fallen. He wondered if Sam's sense of obligation would make him continue to help Gabriel, or if Gabriel's depravity would cause Sam to demand a return to the real world. Gabriel wasn't sure which option he preferred, actually. He wasn't given the time to dwell, however, as Sam asked a question.

"Migration period?"

"After the collapse of the Roman Empire, a lot of tribes moved to new grounds. Norway was one of the places they came to and war for territories ensued," Gabriel explained, happy the answer was just a simple history lesson and not something more personal. "Chaos ruled and it was the height of the worship of Loki."

"Of you," Sam said astutely.

Gabriel purposely kept his face turned away from the man next to him, not wanting Sam to read the emotions that were so much harder to hide here. He gave a curt nod to confirm the statement, inwardly cursing Sam's intelligence. Had he been here with Dean, that connection probably wouldn't have been made so fast. Then again, he really didn't want Dean anywhere near his Grace-scape.

The first men in the procession were in view now and Gabriel turned his face away from them, keeping his eyes firmly on the ground. Sam gasped, which let Gabriel know that the girl had come into view. All of his senses focused on her, he was aware of her to the fiber of his being, even though he didn't see her. The quick in-and-out breaths that signified her panic, the sobbing that showed her fear, the lack of begging that told him that she was without hope.

He could still recall her clearly, one of the few human faces he'd never forgotten in all of his time on Earth. Blue eyes set in an elfin-like face, surrounded by long blond locks. Short, even for her thirteen years, but graceful like a ballerina. And terrified, knowledge of what was to come burning into her eyes. Even disheveled and bound Gabriel had seen her innocence shine, no need to take a peek at her soul even. He hadn't had the guts to look at her soul.

He didn't need to look to know what happened next. It was carved into his memory, forever there if he closed his eyes. She was strapped down to the altar, the men of the tribe surrounding her. Gabriel made himself look up, she deserved that at least. The priest had stepped forward and his knife was poised high in the sky. Gabriel balled his fists, powerless to do anything, yet still wanting to. But it was too late, far too late. He'd had the choice to make back then and he'd made the wrong one out of cowardice.

The knife came down. Above the short scream the girl let out, a sort of strangled shout could be heard that Gabriel didn't remember. It wasn't until he felt Sam's hand cautiously come to rest on his shoulder that he realized he'd made that sound. He turned away from the scene, dislodging Sam's hand from his shoulder. He didn't deserve comfort, not for this. The scent of blood tainted the air and mingled with the victorious shouts of the tribesmen, as nausea rolled around in his stomach.

Gabriel closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to prevent himself from embarrassing himself even more. When he opened his eyes again, they were back on the plain. Sam was looking at him with a concerned look on his face. Gabriel couldn't stand to see it, so he turned away. Concern was the last thing he deserved. His eyes automatically searched out the lily that signified his bond with Sam. The white color sprang up vivid against the brown rock and Gabriel couldn't help but wonder how something so pure could still exist inside of him.

"I thought we were viewing your memories?" Sam asked from behind him. "How come I didn't see you there?"

"Oh, I was there," Gabriel said, scorn aimed at himself dripping from his voice. "Hidden, invisible, watching. Not doing a damn thing."

"Who was she?"

"Just a girl from a nearby village. Innocent and sweet, she never did anything wrong," Gabriel said.

"And you let it happen," Sam said.

There was no condemnation or anger in Sam's voice, just a statement of fact. It was that more than anything that caused Gabriel's anger to come forward. He spun around to face Sam.

"Yes, I did," he shouted. "And you should hate me for it!"

"Why didn't you help?" Sam asked, still in that calm, non-judgmental tone that was driving Gabriel insane.

"I was too afraid," Gabriel said softly, ashamed. "Too afraid to show myself, of being discovered. Heaven was still looking for me back then, it took a long time before they gave up on finding me. I didn't want to go back."

"Was that the first sacrifice?" Sam asked.

"No, but it was the first innocent person."

"But not the last," said Sam.

Sometimes, Gabriel hated it that Sam was so damn smart. He saw connections and drew correct conclusions where others wouldn't even know what to think. Good for a hunter, not so good for Gabriel.

"No," Gabriel said shortly.

Tears pricked hotly in his eyes as he surveyed the landscape around him. It was never going to get better than this, a few tufts of grass and one surviving lily all that was accessible of his Grace. There was just no way he'd ever be able to accept that he had stood by and done nothing.

"Let's go," he said.

He walked to Sam and raised his hand to touch his forehead, but Sam backpedaled fast, staying out of his reach.

"Whoa, what do you mean, let's go? Nothing's changed here," Sam said.

"And it's not going to!" Gabriel ground out between clenched teeth. "There's no way I can accept this, so, this is the end of the trip, princess."

"What would've happened if you'd intervened? Would you have been discovered?" Sam asked.

Gabriel sighed, warmed by Sam's efforts as well as irritated by the futility of them. Still, he'd never been good at denying Sam anything, so he seriously thought about it. Could he have saved the girl, the others? Yes, he could have, but it would have been a red flag to the Host. No Pagan God would save sacrifices, innocents or no innocents. They would have come to investigate and he would have been discovered. He was good at hiding, but as Castiel had demonstrated in TV-land, angels could easily recognize that he was not a mere Trickster nor Pagan God if they got close enough.

"Yes, I would have," said Gabriel.

"Then you made the right choice."

Gabriel looked at Sam incredulously. He had to be kidding, right? Sam Winchester, condoning the murder of an innocent child? Something of his disbelief had to have shown on his face, because Sam sighed and explained.

"Look, I'm not happy about the sacrifices, believe me, I'm not. But first of all, you didn't kill them, they did."

"In my name!" Gabriel said. "And I could have stopped them."

"Yes, but if you did, you'd have been discovered," Sam said. "Look, when we fight demons, sometimes the host doesn't survive. Tragic, but not our fault."

Gabriel snorted in derision. He appreciated Sam's efforts to make him feel better, but it was no use.

"Those are very different things, Sam," he said.

"Okay, you're right," Sam admitted. "But if the apocalypse taught me one thing, it's that you can't save everyone. You can try, but sometimes the bigger picture has to win. Sacrificing one person to stop it was not something we would have done a couple of years ago, yet at the end, that's exactly what we did. Hell, we sacrificed more people than that to win!"

Gabriel flinched at the bitter tone in Sam's voice. It was true, the Winchesters had sacrificed a lot, and not just people, to win. But they'd done it to save the world, not to stay hidden.

"And you know what would've happened if you'd been discovered because you saved that girl, stopped the sacrifices?" Sam said, his voice soft but insistent. "The world would have ended."

"Exaggerate much?" Gabriel said sarcastically.

"No, I'm not. Who told us how to open the cage, Gabriel? Who gave us the information we used to stop the apocalypse and save the world? You did!" Sam said. "If you'd been yanked back to Heaven, that never would've happened. We would have lost."

He was awed by Sam's conviction he'd played an important role in stopping the apocalypse. Perhaps he had played a greater part than he'd previously thought. It didn't completely make up for everything and Gabriel didn't think he'd ever be completely okay with his actions, but he figured he could live with it. Besides, perhaps his Father had planned this all along.

"Dad works in mysterious ways," Gabriel mumbled.

Sam snorted in amusement.

"Yeah, well, if stopping the apocalypse like this was his plan, I sure hope he's done planning, at least in my lifetime," Sam said.

Gabriel gave Sam a smile. It was still a bit weak, but it was there. All around them, grass was growing, covering the once barren plane in a lush, green meadow. Only the large, ragged canyon straight down the middle of the landscape marred the otherwise tranquil surroundings.

"Time for the next one?" Sam asked.

Gabriel nodded and took Sam's outstretched hand. The grass shoots at their feet tangled upwards, blocking the view like a cage. Gabriel could feel Sam's hand gripping him tighter and he gave a reassuring squeeze back. In the next moment the grass disappeared, leaving them in a place Gabriel hadn't set foot in for over a millennia: home.

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Sam looked around, trying to place this memory both in space and time. The surroundings didn't give him much of a clue. It was all lush meadows and clear brooks. There was a thick oak forest in the distance behind them. Idyllic, really, were it not for the totally destroyed city in the distance. At first he'd thought they were traveling backwards in time, viewing increasingly older memories. But Sam was sure that the city had been modern once, seeing elements of New York, Seattle and Los Angeles in it, although it was none of these three cities. It reminded Sam a lot of the pictures he'd seen of London in World War Two, damaged and torn apart by bombs.

He wondered what had happened and turned to Gabriel to ask. But Gabriel wasn't paying attention to him, instead his eyes were raised to the sky. Sam looked as well, until he could see a fast moving dot coming closer and closer. Suddenly, Sam recognized the shape as Gabriel. Gabriel with wings, that is, and he was flying fast, away from the ruined city. He got closer and closer, until he nearly crash-landed in front of them, by the edge of one of the brooks. On his knees, curled up, his wings closed around him, shielding him from outside eyes. But if the shaking of his whole body hadn't betrayed his anguish, the sound of his sobs would have.

"What…where are we?" Sam asked tentatively.

He didn't know what had memory-Gabriel so upset, but from the look on Gabriel's face, it was still hurting the archangel to this day. So he'd either get a real answer, or he'd get his head snapped off. Depending on the reaction, he'd try to figure out what had memory-Gabriel so upset or he'd shut up. He hoped Gabriel would open up to him, though. He didn't like seeing the archangel in so much pain, whether it was in the past or now.

"Heaven," Gabriel said, sounding horrified and longing at the same time.

Sam looked around incredulously. Heaven? It didn't look like anything Sam had seen of Heaven, or imagined either. Gabriel must've sensed his disbelief, because he started explaining without being prompted, something Sam was glad of. If this memory was truly about Heaven, there'd be a lot of conversational landmines to avoid. Gabriel had left for a reason, after all, and perhaps Sam was about to find out why.

"You can't see Heaven, no human soul can. They can't comprehend it. So you superimpose an image on it that you can understand."

Sam remembered Joshua saying something like that the last time he'd been in Heaven. Something about the garden looking like what the people seeing it were expecting. But this was not Sam's memory and he had no idea what this image meant. He took a deep breath, not wanting Gabriel to pull back from him if he asked the wrong question, yet knowing he needed more information if he was to help him.

"So seeing a destroyed city is actually?"

"Heaven after Lucifer was cast out," Gabriel replied.

Suddenly, Sam understood Gabriel's sorrow. This was when it had all started to fall apart and from the looks of it, the war that had raged in Heaven had destroyed a lot of it. Which meant a lot of angels, Gabriel's brothers, would have died or gotten hurt. Sam wanted to say something, but he didn't know what. Before he could figure it out, another figure had appeared in the sky.

Sam tracked him as he came closer, trying to determine if he knew this angel. He didn't know the dark-skinned man, but he recognized him from Dean's stories. As the other angel approached, Sam felt a feeling of dread.

"Raphael, right?" he asked with trepidation.

"Yes," Gabriel said.

It sounded clipped and pained, yet fond at the same time and Sam wondered what was about to happened. Whatever it was, he reckoned it wasn't good. Raphael landed hard, like he hadn't taken the time to slow down. From Dean's stories, he'd sounded like a complete and utter asshole without a compassionate bone in his body. But the Raphael Sam saw was anything but that. His concern was easily visible on his face as he ran towards Gabriel's huddled form.

"Gabriel, Gabriel!" he shouted.

He fell on his knees beside the archangel but stopped just short of touching him. He stretched out his arms to Gabriel, letting his hands hover over Gabriel's shaking wings. Sam wondered if there was something Raphael was doing that he couldn't see, couldn't perceive as a human.

"Are you hurt?" Raphael asked, concern and urgency in his voice.

"No, I'm fine," Gabriel said, unfolding his wings so he became visible again.

At that moment, he sounded so much like Dean, so much like a big brother, that he took Sam's breath away. He'd even erased the traces of the tears Sam knew had been there and all that was left was a tight-lipped smile on his face, meant to reassure but doing exactly the opposite to Raphael. Sam should know, he'd seen the same kind of expression on Dean's face often enough and it never failed to evoke concern in him.

"Gabriel, please," Raphael said. "I know you're not fine. Nobody's fine right now. Not Michael, not you, not me, nobody."

At that, Gabriel sat up straighter and Sam could see him shifting straight into protective big brother mode.

"Are you hurt?" he asked.

"No, I'm not injured," Raphael replied. "Michael has sustained some wounds, but he will heal. Physically at least."

"He's blaming himself, isn't he?" Gabriel said.

"No more than you are," Raphael replied dryly.

With that, Gabriel slumped his shoulders, losing the strength that held him ramrod straight. He looked sad and old and so burdened. Sam wanted to give him a hug, but he was just a memory. Thankfully, Raphael did what Sam couldn't. Seeing Raphael began to speak softly in Gabriel's ear, Sam moved closer to hear.

"Please, please don't Gabriel. I know you're thinking about it, but please don't Fall. Don't leave me here alone. I know losing Lucifer hurt, it hurt us all, but if you leave, that will hurt me even more. Don't leave me."

"Michael lost a child, I lost a parent," Gabriel, Sam's Gabriel, said from behind him. "We were both deeply hurt. The bond we had with Lucifer was ripped from us when he was cast down. But unlike Michael, who had nobody anymore, I did."

"Raphael was your child," Sam said.

"Yes," Gabriel said. "He was the youngest of us. It was Michael, Lucifer, me, then Raphael."

Raphael was rocking Gabriel now, but although Gabriel had his arms around the other angel, he wasn't responding in any other way. Sam's mind flashed back to similar scenes between him and Dean. Both of them had been in Gabriel's position, as well as in Raphael's. Sam swallowed heavily as it once again slammed home just how much Gabriel had given up by leaving Heaven and later by standing with humanity. He might have chosen to leave his family, but that didn't make it hurt any less. Sam should know, he'd experienced it.

"Let's go," Gabriel suddenly said. "I've seen enough of this."

"Wait, shouldn't we see this through to the end, to understand why this particular memory?" Sam said, running after Gabriel who was striding away from the scene fast.

Gabriel abruptly turned around, causing Sam to almost bump into him. His eyes were flashing with fury and something else, something deeper and darker. But Sam knew it wasn't aimed at him and he stood his ground.

"I don't need to see to know!" Gabriel snarled. "I've been there, I lived it! Raphael was the baby, the Healer and he tried. He tried so hard. But I was broken. He begged and pleaded with me for days, days! Not to Fall, not to leave him. And you know what I did?"

"You left," Sam said flatly.

"Oh, I did much worse than that," Gabriel said. The dark tone in his voice had Sam taking a step back, before he could stop himself. "He wouldn't leave me, you know. Never once took a step from my side. Not until I'd promised him, promised that I wouldn't Fall. Only then did he leave to tend to the other wounded. And I, oh, I kept my promise. I didn't Fall, I just ran."

The meadow around them with the forest in the background dissolved into the now familiar meadow with the canyon running through it. Gabriel turned away from Sam and started punching the rock face. He was raging in what sounded like Enochian and chunks of rock broke off beneath the fury of his fists. He was, Sam thought, quite literally beating himself up.

"Gabriel, Gabriel, that's enough," Sam said, soft but decisive.

"No, no it's not," Gabriel shouted, in English now. "I left him, I left my brother. Lucifer abandoned me and I knew how much it hurt. And what did I do? I turned around and did exactly the same!"

Sam stepped between Gabriel and the rock face. A stupid move, perhaps, as Gabriel was too preoccupied to notice Sam until it was too late. He hit Sam in the chest, cracking a couple of ribs and knocking the breath out of him. The next thing Sam knew, he was flat on his back on the grass, a worried Gabriel hovering over him.

"Stupid Winchester," Gabriel grouched. "You die here, you die in the real world, you know."

"Yeah?" Sam said.

"Yeah," Gabriel responded.

"You calm now?" Sam asked.

The slightly annoyed look on Gabriel's face, something Sam was coming to recognize as Gabriel's special brand of concern, disappeared. In its place was a blank mask, designed to hide all feelings from him. But Sam was getting to know Gabriel well enough to be able to spot the deep pain in his eyes. He sat up, only mildly surprised not to feel even a twinge of pain.

"I get that you feel like you betrayed him," Sam said. "God knows I've felt like that, what with the whole demon blood thing. It sucks. I've never hurt more than when I knew, down to the depths of my soul, that I'd hurt Dean with my actions. But you can't change what you did anymore than I could."

"It's not the same, Sam," Gabriel said. "I choose, deliberately, for a course of action I knew was going to hurt Raphael. And Michael too, if we're going to be honest. You had no idea what Ruby's plan was."

"Maybe not," Sam said. "But I knew enough to keep it a secret from Dean. And when he found out and I promised him not to do anything like that anymore? I deliberately turned around and betrayed him, knowing how that would make him feel. I'm not hiding behind excuses anymore. It was wrong and I knew it."

Sam took a deep breath, feeling better himself now that he'd said that out loud. He knew that when they were done here, he'd have to have a long conversation with Dean. The apocalypse and the years before that had created a chasm between himself and his brother that he dearly wanted to patch up. They'd only just began healing from him leaving for Stanford when the whole crap began and in the end there was so much between them it couldn't be fixed in what little time they'd had. But now he had a second chance and he realized that maybe that was what Gabriel needed as well.

"You can't change the past," Sam said softly. "But, perhaps, you can begin making up for it? You know, contact Raphael, talk to him. No matter how angry he is, he's still family."

Gabriel didn't respond to that, but the longer they sat there, the more their surroundings changed. First the canyon closed up, being replaced with a soft-flowing stream that glistened in the sunlight. A couple of trees appeared. By the time Gabriel looked up at Sam with a small smile on his face, the cries of golden eagles rang through the sky. He didn't say a word about what Sam had just suggested, but from their now restored surroundings, Sam could guess that he'd decided to try and repair his relationship with Raphael.

"So, looks like we're done here," Sam said.

The soft smile on Gabriel's face slid off and the shadows in his eyes were back. Sam hid a wince, wishing he'd kept his big mouth shut and just let Gabriel enjoy it for a moment.

"No, we're not," Gabriel said.

"We're not?" Sam asked, looking around trying to spot what he'd missed.

"There's supposed to be lilies as far as the eye can see," Gabriel said.

"Oh, well, if that's all," Sam said. "That's just a small detail, right. So we're nearly there."

Gabriel snorted.

"Small detail, right," he said. "We're just getting to the hard part, princess."

"What do you mean? Is it going to take more than one memory to bring all the lilies back?"

Oh, Sam hoped it wouldn't be something like a memory per lily, that would seriously suck. He was already hoping that the time spent in here wasn't as long as he was really unconscious in the real world. If it was, Dean would be seriously freaking out by now and the last thing Sam wanted to do was cause his brother more anguish.

"Think of what you see of my Grace now as the edges of a puzzle," Gabriel said. "The lilies are the entire middle part. Now, is piecing the middle part together easier than the edge?"

Sam shook his head. No, it wasn't. He was wondering where Gabriel was going with this, though.

"Right, it's not. So even though it's just one more memory, it's going to be the hardest step." Gabriel hesitated for a moment, then continued. "It's where most angels fail."

Sam swallowed heavily. He didn't like the sound of that, at all.

"What do you mean, fail?" he asked.

"Oh, come on, Sammy," Gabriel said. "You can't honestly believe this works every time? If it was that easy, I wouldn't have had to bring you."

Sam was almost too afraid to ask, but he was more afraid of not knowing.

"So, what happens if we fail?"

"I get to spend the rest of my miserable life as a human," Gabriel said, the cheerful tone miles away from the dark look on his face. "Well, until I kill myself in my misery."

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Gabriel could see the effect his words were having on Sam and immediately wished he could take them back. The war with Lucifer hadn't only cost them the angels who'd Fallen with him or who'd been lost in the battle. It had also cost them a lot of angels afterwards, angels who never managed to recover their connection to their Grace and ended up killing themselves.

Gabriel knew he'd never be able to live as a human, knowing what he once was but never being able to reach the Grace that still resided in him. But that didn't mean he had to be all gloom and doom about it to Sam. Who knew, perhaps there'd be a miracle and this last memory wasn't what he feared.

"Well, let's not dwell on that, shall we," Gabriel said lightly. "Don't borrow trouble and all that."

He held out his hand to Sam, who took it with a look of determination on his face. As if sheer Winchester determination could make Gabriel accept himself. Still, he didn't comment on it, merely turned to the white lily that had given him hope throughout this all, yet was also the root of his problems. With a trembling hand, he touched it.

The lily dissolved into dewdrops under his hand and the grass beneath his feet turned into concrete. He closed his eyes and let go of Sam's hand. He knew exactly where he was, not even needing Sam's frantic voice calling Bobby's name to place the memory.

"Holy shit," his Sam said. "This is your biggest obstacle?!"

Gabriel stood up and gave a him a pinched smile. Sam looked shocked but not mad, thankfully. Gabriel knew that would change, though.

The body of Bobby disappeared and his past self appeared. He remembered planning on letting Sam think he'd killed Bobby for a couple of months. Even back then though, he'd been a softy when it came to Sam Winchesters' bloody puppy eyes and plaintive cries. So he'd caved and showed himself.

"Sam, there's a lesson here that I've been trying to drill into the freakish, Cro-Magnon skull of yours," his past self said.

And oh, had he ever. But nothing, nothing he'd done, not the endless Tuesdays nor the experience of life without Dean had kept Sam from falling apart when it truly happened. Sometimes Gabriel wondered if Sam would've fallen apart quite so bad if he hadn't gone through it once before. Perhaps he'd broken the kid before the demons and other angels ever could.

For a moment, he contemplated asking Sam. But he was watching the scene in front of them intently and Gabriel had no wish to remind Sam of his presence. A few more minutes of relative peace before their somewhat-friendship blew apart like a soap bubble running into a rhino was all Gabriel could ask for and by Dad, he was going to take it.

"This obsession to save Dean? The way you two keep sacrificing yourselves for each other? Nothing good comes out of it. Just blood and pain," his past self said. "Dean's your weakness. The bad guys know it too. He's gonna be the death of you, Sam."

"Even then," Sam whispered besides Gabriel.

The tone was one of a man that just had some kind of epiphany and Gabriel didn't like it one bit. He hated the fact that to get his Grace back he'd lose Sam.

"You weren't on the sidelines even then, were you?" Sam said.

"What do you mean?" Gabriel said, playing dumb.

He knew exactly what Sam meant. And the guy was right too. He'd been trying to keep the apocalypse from happening, to keep Sam from going off the deep end and turning dark. He hadn't thought it would stop the apocalypse from happening, but he'd hoped to stave it off for a little bit. In the end though, the joke had been on him, as Sam and Dean together did what Gabriel had thought to be impossible. They'd stopped the apocalypse and by doing that proved him wrong. They really were stronger together than apart.

Sam gave Gabriel a look that showed he didn't buy Gabriel's dumb act, to which Gabriel just gave him a shrug. Hey, you couldn't blame him for trying, right? Sam turned back to the scene, where his past self was now pleading with Gabriel's past self. Gabriel swallowed heavily. Even now the desperate words felt like a stab to the heart. Maybe more so than they did then, what with the bond in place. He just hoped Sam didn't remember Gabriel telling him this had been when the bond had formed, but somehow he doubted that.

His past self snapped his fingers and Sam's past self was gone. He sagged, cursed, then hit the wall so hard he actually punched through the brick. Sam let out a shocked gasp, but before he could comment they were back on the meadow next to the lily. Gabriel clenched his lips together. It wasn't like he needed Sam to have any more clues.

"Why'd you do it?" Sam asked. "Why did you bring Dean back?"

"Because you've got damned puppy eyes," Gabriel groused.

"Gabriel," Sam said exasperated.

Gabriel had to turn away from Sam's annoyed look. It was actually kind of funny that Sam didn't believe him, he was actually telling the truth for once. Well, part of the truth, anyway. He might as well tell the whole truth, if Sam wasn't going to believe him anyway.

"That's when I gave up hope, that's when I realized you were never going to stop doing stupid stuff for your brother, when I realized the Apocalypse was coming and there was no stopping it," Gabriel said. "So what would have been the point?"

"So you need to accept you gave up hope?" Sam asked. "You do realize all of us gave up hope at some point, right? Dean, Bobby, Castiel, me, all of us."

"No, I've accepted that," Gabriel said. "I gave up, yes. I just couldn't see a way out of it. And trust me, I'm not happy at all that it was your brother, of all people, that made me realize that I had to pick a side one way or another."

Okay, so that last wasn't the whole truth. But it wasn't a lie either.

"So what, then?" Sam asked. "Surely you must have some idea?"

Gabriel turned away from Sam. Oh, he had an idea, all right. He looked at the lily standing proudly at his feet. He'd cherished it, right from the beginning, even when he hadn't admitted to himself how much Sam meant to him. Ironic that it would end up destroying his life.

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Sam suppressed a sigh as Gabriel turned away from him. He didn't understand this reluctance to work through things. It was almost as if Gabriel didn't want his Grace back, but Sam knew that wasn't the case. Hell, Gabriel had practically admitted he was going to kill himself if he didn't get his Grace back. And quite frankly, he was fed up with Gabriel avoiding the issue here.

"Gabriel, cut the crap," he said. "You know damn well what this is about. So spill it."

"You want to know what this is about," Gabriel said with a hollow tone. "It's about you, it's all about you."

Gabriel turned around and Sam had to stifle a gasp at the raw pain on Gabriel's face.

"What do you mean, it's about me?" he whispered.

"It's always been about you, Sam," Gabriel said.

Sam felt fear crawl up his spine. Gabriel's words echoed the words he'd heard from demons, Ruby, even Lucifer uncomfortably.

"First I thought you were just a vessel, nothing more," Gabriel continued. "But then I followed you for months and I stupidly got attached. And there you were, pleading with me to give you back your brother. I wasn't even going to show myself! And what did I do? I gave in, that's what. And in the process, we formed a small, tiny bond."

Gabriel was waving his hands now, trying to convey some sort of message, but Sam wasn't getting it.

"This is about the demon blood?" Sam asked. "You need to accept that I'm what? Tainting you?"

Sam felt the tears prick in his eyes. All his life, the demon blood that Azazel had fed him broke everything around him. It had caused his mother to die, he'd lost his father because of it, Jess, Brady and God knew who else. Angels saw him as an abomination, even Castiel had for a long time. Hell, maybe he still did, just hid it better. Learning that Gabriel was cut off from his Grace because he had a bond with a demon blood infested addict hurt more than Sam thought he could handle.

He closed his eyes, trying to stave off the tears, but they fell anyway. He felt the soft touch of Gabriel's fingers brushing the tears from his cheeks, but the shame he felt kept his eyes shut.

"Sam, there's no demon blood inside you," Gabriel said softly. "Not anymore."

At that, Sam opened his eyes, wanting to see if Gabriel was speaking the truth. He couldn't detect any hint of deceit in Gabriel's expressive eyes, but he didn't dare believe it yet. He kept looking in Gabriel's eyes and the archangel let him look, not shielding himself at all. When Sam was assured Gabriel was telling the truth, he sagged in relief.

"How?" he asked.

"I rebuilt your body down to the exact details," Gabriel said. "Well, every detail except one, that is."

"You left out the demon blood," Sam said in realization.

A weight he hadn't know he carried with him was lifted from his shoulders. He gave Gabriel a wide, beaming grin. It felt foreign on his face and Sam realized he couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed like that, without restraint. Gabriel gave him a soft smile back. He then seemed to realize just how close together they were standing, as he took a step back.

"So, if this isn't about the demon blood, then what is it about?" Sam asked, trying to get them back on track and out of the uncomfortable silence that had fallen.

"The bond," Gabriel said after some hesitation.

"You need to accept that you have a bond with me?" Sam said. "Can't you just break it?"

Gabriel flinched at the suggestion and wrapped his arms around his stomach, like he'd been kicked. Sam cursed himself and wondered why he even bothered to open his mouth. It seemed that no matter what he said to Gabriel, it was always the wrong thing.

"It can't be broken," Gabriel said. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, that's okay," Sam said. "I mean, I don't mind. Just thought it'd be easier than trying to accept it."

"It's not having the bond that I need to accept," Gabriel said. "It's what it represents."

"Okay," Sam said slowly.

It was like talking in circles and he was getting really tired. For once, he wanted a straight answer from Gabriel.

"So what does it represent?"

"Do you know why I decided to stand up against Lucifer?" Gabriel asked.

Sam shook his head, uncertain where this was going. But he'd learned that with Gabriel, even the most seemingly random thought led somewhere.

"Your brother, he talked about family. Said that despite everything, I saw the other gods as family and I wouldn't want them to die," Gabriel said. "He was right, somewhat. But that's not why I went back. I went back because you were there. I died for you, Sam. So that you would have a chance."

"Why would you do that?" Sam asked incredulous.

Gabriel looked at him and Sam could see the answer in his eyes even before Gabriel said the words out loud. His hazel eyes were filled with warmth and a depth of feeling Sam had once seen in Jess' eyes. It filled an empty space inside of him with a glowing feeling, like he'd been basking in the sunlight.

"Because I love you."

Sam closed his eyes, willing himself not to give away how much those words meant to him. If it was up to him, he'd tell Gabriel right then and there that he thought he might love him too. But the archangel looked so vulnerable standing there before him. Sam knew Gabriel well enough to know that if he said anything now, Gabriel would run. There was no way Sam was going to catch up to an archangel hell bent on avoiding him and the last thing on Earth Sam wanted was to lose Gabriel now. So he swallowed the words of affection rising inside of him and instead turned his head away, looking at his surroundings instead of at Gabriel.

A strong gust of wind blew around them, bending the grass and moving over the plain as a wave. Everywhere it touched the grass white lilies sprouted, until the whole meadow was filled with them. Sam stared at them in awe, suddenly understanding what Gabriel had meant about the lilies being the biggest part of his Grace. The scene was beautiful and Sam had never been more aware of the fact that Gabriel was an archangel than he was now. An archangel who had just confessed his love. It boggled Sam's mind, but he found he didn't mind at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

SPNSPNSPNSPN

Gabriel had been expecting anger or disgust, or even worse pity from Sam. Instead, all he was doing was looking around with a look of pure wonder on his face. Which, yeah, Gabriel could understand. An archangel's Grace was a sight to behold, especially for a human soul. But he figured it wouldn't be long before Sam tired of looking around and he'd react to Gabriel's confession. So in the spirit of going when the going was good, he walked to Sam to take them back so he could go and lick his wounds in private.

However, as soon as Sam saw him coming, hand already stretched out towards his forehead, he backed up rapidly.

"Whoa, dude, no," he said. "You're not zapping me anywhere."

Gabriel stopped and frowned. He didn't understand why Sam would refuse to leave this place.

"We're done here," Gabriel said. "The connection to my Grace has been restored completely. There's nothing left to do here."

Sam crossed his arms over his chest and plastered a mulish look on his face. Gabriel cringed internally. He knew that face and he also knew that whatever had gotten into Sam, he wouldn't budge until he got his way.

"You're not zapping me anywhere, because the moment we're back in the real world, you'll take off," Sam said. "And we're not done talking."

Gabriel felt a little glow of satisfaction that his mate knew him well enough to realize he'd run as soon as he had the chance, but he ruthlessly stomped it down. Sam didn't want to be his mate, he reminded himself sternly.

"What's there to talk about?" he said, although it didn't come out nearly as confident as he'd wanted it to.

"The fact that you love me."

"Like I said, nothing to talk about," Gabriel scoffed. "I know everything you want to say already."

"Oh, yeah?" Sam said with a smile. "So you know that I want to give this, us, a shot?"

Gabriel blinked with his eyes, seriously questioning if he heard that right. Hope surged into his heart, but there was no way he could be so lucky. This was probably Sam's way of getting back at him for all the shit he'd pulled on him in the past. Slightly bitter, he looked at the ground. He'd expected better of Sam after all they'd been through. Gabriel's hands clenched at his side, because even though he knew, just knew, Sam wasn't serious, he still couldn't stop the ridiculous fluttering feeling in his stomach as the man stepped closer to him.

He startled as Sam's hand came to rest upon his cheek.

"I never expected this, you know," Sam said softly. "But I know you, Gabriel. Perhaps better than anyone at this point. And I want this."

Gabriel raised his eyes to Sam's. The hope inside him grew as Sam's words washed over him and he was reminded of the fact that whatever Sam did, playing with people's emotions just wasn't his thing. Not even in his darkest days had Sam resorted to those kind of tricks.

"I'm not sure what exactly I feel for you," Sam continued. "I won't lie and say I love you. But I think, maybe, I could come to love you. I want to try this."

Gabriel couldn't find the words to respond, so he just nodded his head. Sam leaned forward and kissed him. It was a chaste kiss, but Gabriel was overwhelmed by it. He grabbed Sam's shirt, clutching it tight, never wanting to let the man before him go. Then a burst of affection that wasn't his but was directed at him rushed over Gabriel, nearly sending him to his knees with its intensity. Sam broke the kiss to catch him, drawing a moan of disappointment from him.

"Gabriel, you okay?" Sam asked concerned.

Gabriel sucked in a breath and nodded. The concern wasn't only visible on Sam's face and audible in his voice, but he could also feel it as if it were his own. He looked over at the lily representing their bond. Where it had been a blinding white, it was now a deep, burgundy red now, colored by the light of Sam's soul.

Gabriel's heart soared. Sam might not have realized he loved Gabriel yet, but their bond told the angel all he needed to know. Sam loved him with all his soul, enough that he'd reached out across the bond and bound Gabriel's Grace as tightly to his soul as Gabriel had bound Sam's soul to his Grace.

"I'm fine," Gabriel said. "Better than fine."

"That mean you won't go running off the moment we get back?" Sam asked, chuckling.

"Nah, I'll have far too much fun annoying that brother of yours," Gabriel said with a grin.

Sam snorted, clearly not buying Gabriel's reason for staying around, but his eyes were alight with affection. Gabriel basked in its warmth, feeling more at home with this man than he'd ever felt anywhere else. Sure, he still had to face the Heavenly Host, Raphael, Castiel, and perhaps the most fearsome one of all, Dean Winchester. But none of that mattered, because he had his mate and Sam wanted him. With the bond firmly in place and Sam at his back, he could deal with anything.