They’re there again, one two three four many, all crowded around, moths to a bright flame, demons to a spark of life, and he cannot conceive how he should be so fascinating, so brilliant—not now, now that he is dead and wilted, numb within a body not his own, not his own; he was never meant for earth.
Well, he is below the earth, now, in a sense—in many senses.
There is nothing beautiful about a butterfly pinned under glass, a frog being slowly vivisected, but they seem to find it glorious.
He writhes, opens his toothless, bloody mouth, shrieks.
His headache is worse when he first wakes up, so much so that he thinks it’s that which wakes him—steady pain increasing to the breaking point. His ribs don’t want to be left out, either, sending ragged claws across his side to remind him. He’s too warm below and too cold above, hands clammy as they clutch at the blankets, lips as dry as ever. When he closes his eyes, bright flashes of dream tear across them, and his heart quickens.
He never saw things, before. It figures, though, that he’d only go mad just as soon as the torture ended. Like the humans who never quit their hated, mind-numbing jobs because they can’t take the pain of retirement.
He shuffles out of the room, and with one hand braced against the wall heads downstairs. The fire is banked, and moonlight streams in through the windows above the little table too. Bobby's asleep on the couch, Sam probably still doubled over in the lower bunk by the fireplace, so Gabriel moves as quietly as he can.
He fills a mug with water, then sits by the table and sips it slowly. There's a pad of paper on the table, and a pencil rests on top of it. The paper is yellow, lined with blue, but otherwise blank and crisp, and he tugs it over.
Almost automatically, he picks up the pencil and starts to sketch, drawing the sigils he'd once carved painstakingly into the walls of his prison. He finishes one after another, tearing off the papers and letting them pile haphazardly around him. It's soothing, and eventually the pains in his ribs and head ebb. He falls asleep with his head on the table and hand still clutching the pencil.
A pile of dead feathers, a hundred and twelve years old to the day.
A forsythia bloom curling golden against the wide grey sky.
Human tibias, to be made into flutes that will sing out the notes of reincarnation.
Twenty-one tons of human hair, twisted and ground into itself.
A woman wasting away into a pile of rock—rock salt, to keep away the evils of her city.
The vast and beautiful city, dead by divine providence, or simply dehydration—collapsed into the empty reservoir beneath.
An island full of snakes, snakes in the trees, on the ground, where you cannot step without being caught and bitten.
Thirty-four rats, six of them already dead, scratching and clawing at each other, pulling in all different directions—unable to escape the clotted mass that keeps them tied to their brothers.
Mass graves marked by slight depressions in the earth, scattered, torn pieces of clothing.
A man who drives and drives and drives until he reaches the sea, and then keeps going, car rusting as he goes, driving until the gas runs out.
Cockroaches being kept for their legs, living, legs growing back, being cut off; doused in ice water to keep them insensate, docile, because even the most harmless insect may carry something evil within it.
Two boys who left the only place they knew, the only safe place there was, to follow something dark and angry that lies within their all-too human hearts; trying to reach some, any other place.
(There is no other place.)
Himself, in a wide dusty field stretching out to the edges of oblivion, surrounded by holy oil tracing out endless patterns in the dust.
The fire catches.
When Bobby wakes up, he notices Gabriel almost immediately. The angel's surrounded by drifts of yellow paper, and Bobby picks up a sheet. The drawing on it looks almost like a devil's trap, but it's much more complicated, with little dots here and there that could be mistakes or bits of dust but might also be integral to the piece. He drops the paper, and picks up another. It's got bits of Spanish written on it, and something that looks like Chinese, all encased in a perfect seven-sided shape.
He drops that one, too, and looks at the sleeping man before him. He doesn't much look like the guy that tried to kill him with a chainsaw murderer. Looks cold and vulnerable, really. His blanket is slipping off, and Bobby replaces it gently.
He sits across the table. Gabriel's sleeve has slipped down, giving Bobby a clear view—much better than Sam’s blurry picture—of the cuffs holding his power in. They look like silver bracelets, if bigger, maybe an inch wide and an eighth inch thick. He still doesn't recognize anything beyond the Enochian written on them, and he’s looked—put his research on Leviathans aside, all in the name of giving the angel his wings back.
He wonders if he does it for Gabriel, or for another angel gone too long to hate.
There's a creaking noise, and Sam comes around the bend, stopping when he sees them. He, too, goes and picks up a paper, giving Bobby a quizzical look. Bobby shrugs. Sam turns it around to show him—it's all in English, modern English, arranged in rows and columns. Parts of it are scratched out.
Gabriel stirs, slowly easing his eyes open and frowning at the pencil. He lifts his head and comes face to face with Bobby. “Morning,” Bobby says.
“…good morning,” Gabriel replies scratchily. He glances around at the mess, looking vaguely puzzled. “Um. Did I—” he trails off.
Bobby shrugs. “Woke up and you were sitting right there. You hungry?”
“Alright. I’ll whip something up.” Bobby gets up and starts puttering around the sink area, and Sam takes the opportunity to steal his seat.
“We saw these sigils on the walls where they were keeping you,” he says. “Huge one on the floor, too. Did, uh, Lucifer—”
“No,” Gabriel shakes his head, “I did them.” He doesn't elaborate for a while, and Sam doesn't press, but when Bobby sets down a bowl of some unidentifiable mush Gabriel continues. “I was trying to find a way to keep humans out.”
“Oh.” Sam pauses. “The crossword, too?”
Gabriel frowns at him. “What?”
“Uh. This.” Sam shows it to him.
Gabriel pauses with his spoon halfway to his lips, head tilted to one side. “Yes.”
“…originally skinwalkers, I think. Or rougarou, I don't remember. Although.” He gestures at the left corner. “That may have something to do with giraffes.”
Sam's not sure if he's joking, and turns it around to look more closely. “Quotidian? Camels? Blue?”
“Definitely giraffes.” He returns his attention to eating. Really, really slowly. Sam stares at the sheet of paper, wrinkling his nose up. It takes him a minute to notice that Gabriel's smiling very slightly.
Sam sputters. “You—you—”
Gabriel gives a small, tired laugh. “Samuel Winchester. You're incredibly gullible, you know that?”
“So it's not a protection sigil.”
“Sure it is.” They stare at each other before Gabriel shrugs. “It doesn't actually matter what language you do it in, you know. Some of them are better for different things, I guess. And some are easier to squeeze something out of, which is why all the ones you hunters use are…funky. I thought using a language still being spoken might work better.”
“Like how Enochian works against angels?” Bobby plunks a bowl down in front of Sam and sits down with his own.
“Sure, like how Enochian works against angels. Theoretically anything works against anything, if you do it right. Humans are obsessed with tradition, though. So all your exorcisms, for example, are still in Latin, even though it would be easier for you to remember one in English.”
“Hmm. So you could—make these up, then.”
Gabriel gestures to the piles of paper around him with one quirked eyebrow. “Yes.”
“And see if one would work?”
“Yes. Probably. Though it’s not really a science. Takes trial and error.”
“Rituals, too? Other stuff?”
“Mind taking a look?”
Gabriel looks puzzled. “Sure.”
Bobby nods. “Great.” He leans over and picks up a massive stack of yellow envelopes from the counter, tossing them onto the table before Gabriel. “Get annotating.”
Sam almost laughs at the expression on Gabriel’s face, then composes himself, slurps up his mush in the space of a minute. “Right. Well, I’d better get going. We’ll check in.”
“See that you do.”
It’s not even that he can’t escape the vessel. It’s that it doesn’t feel like one—he can’t even mark the boundary where he ends and the body begins, no matter how he scratches and peels away at the places where the line should be.
If he could fight, if he could struggle against it, maybe he could get out. But here, there is nothing to fight.
Too comfortable in your vessels, they’d said, it’s strange how you can fall into these humans so easily, and how foolish, that at the time he’d taken it as a compliment.
“Ow, Dean!” Sam flinches away from the needle as Dean jabs it into his shoulder.
“Big baby. Quit moving. Have a drink. Come on, we've done this a million times.” Dean picks up the bottle of Jack and waves it back and forth in front of Sam’s face until Sam grabs at it irritably with his good hand and swings it back to drink.
“So you should be a little better at it by now, don't you think?”
“And you should be better at dodging small angry women. Seriously, how many times have you been beat up by some chick half your size?” Dean’s grinning behind him. Smug bastard.
“Because you were so much help. Way to lose Gabriel's sigil-thing, by the way. Made that so much more fun.”
“Yeah, I'll take Romero zombies over those things any day. There you go.” He ties off the thread and pats Sam's uninjured shoulder. “Good as new.”
“Thanks.” Sam fiddles with the label on the whiskey for a moment, then hands it over a bit reluctantly when Dean makes grabby hands. “Dean…”
“It is perfectly normal to have a drink in celebration of our victory, Sam, I'm not —”
Sam rolls his eyes at him. Though they should probably have a talk about that, too. “Dean.”
“Just, don't tell Gabriel about the Leviathans, okay?”
Dean blinks. “Okay, um…I haven't. Though, why not? He's kind of our best shot at them. Wait, you've neither of you mentioned them?”
“No, it just—nothing new came in, and then we were looking for stuff on breaking those cuffs—”
“How's that going?”
“About as well as you'd expect considering Gabriel's no help. He translated the Enochian for us, but most of it's standard binding stuff where you usually just break the circle, and there’s these bits that he’s not sure about so he insists we can't just cut through them. Thinks you need an angel, which obviously isn't in the cards. Anyway. They didn't come up, and then—he's got this whole thing where he thinks we're just taking care of him because of Cas, or something, and I just don't want to…” He trails off, scowling at the wall, and takes the bottle back from Dean.
“…tell him we're just taking care of him 'cause we think he can gank some monsters for us?”
“'Cause we kinda are.”
Sam frowns at him. “What? No we're not.”
Dean shrugs. “Well, I mean—we'd never have found him without Meg, right? And she mentioned him because of them. So…”
“Yeah, so that's on her. It's not the reason we got him out of there. That's just—common human decency, right? Are you saying you'd have just left him there?”
“No! No, but, Sam, we're going to have to tell him sometime. And he'll probably just be more pissed the longer we keep it from him.”
Sam swishes the whiskey back and forth, staring down through it at the motel floor. “Yeah. I know.”
Lucifer returns on a Tuesday, but won’t talk, just hides behind first one man and then another. He reaches out, but can’t quite touch him, breaks free and squirms his way through the circle to find that he’s gone, blinked out of existence.
Then he starts seeing Michael, and tries to reach him, too, but he’s playing the same game. Soon, they start to blink in and out one by one, and he no longer knows which way to turn until the men take hold of him and turn him to them instead, until he forgets and sees only solid flesh in the bright lights.
When they leave, he looks, but none of his brothers have come back for him.
It's oddly relaxing.
Singer’s got him going over what appears to be an entire library of photocopied books—the stairwell currently contains stacks upon stacks of manila envelopes that just get higher every time Singer leaves and returns. Neon green's the most ostentatious color of pen the man has, so that's what Gabriel's using—it annoys him just enough that he doesn't quite say anything about it. The thick black marker annoys him more, though, because when Gabriel takes that out he's blacking out paragraphs and paragraphs of bad information. It makes the old hunter cringe, as if losing even the chaff was personally painful to him.
He's going to need a new one, though, because that last manuscript on imported Danish fairy beliefs in Iowa was pure drivel (humans, seriously, who writes hundred-page academic papers on this stuff?), and by the time he'd got through it he'd left less than a quarter still intact, and that all covered over in green. It had taken him the better part of a day.
He's gone from crouching over the wobbly table to stretching out on the couch to where he is now, settled comfortably in front of the fireplace among a nest of blankets and pillows that he'd salvaged from the upstairs bedroom and various chests smelling heavily of mothballs and cedar. Even if it hadn't turned out to be as nice as it is, the work would have been worth the look on Singer’s face when he walked through the front door to find the majority of the textiles in the place draped all around Gabriel.
Whoever wrote this particular journal seems to believe it's a combination of turning his jacket inside out and throwing warm ashes around that cowed the spriggan he'd gone and pissed off, which is common enough but utterly stupid. The man seems to have survived on a string of good luck in general. Not unlike most hunters, Gabriel supposes; as a breed they seem to have a tendency to blunder awkwardly straight into things and flail at them until they're dead. Only fair to help the poor things out, right?
Who knows what he'd do if he had to write anything about gods, but he's got no sympathy for ugly, mindless little parasites hopping around and making trouble for themselves. If they're incapable of keeping their heads down, no power to them. This for kelpies, that for trolls, and it's nice to know that his memory's not entirely gone, that he can in fact be useful.
He's organized his sigils, too, and he's oddly tempted to just start drawing them around the walls of the cabin. Some of them would probably be useful, really, since apparently this isn't Singer’s actual house and the nicely warded one burned down a few weeks ago. Suspicious, since Singer hasn't actually told him how it burned down, and if he's on something's hit list, which isn't implausible, Gabriel would really like to know. Being in the line of fire is just another indignity he doesn’t really need—he still cuts himself shaving, apparently can't do so much as drive a car (and no need to tell Singer that he'd tried), has to watch his feet as he walks for fear he'll forget where they are. He doesn't understand how they all live like this, he really doesn't.
The front door creaks, and through it comes Singer, shaking the rain off his coat and carting another box along with him. He sets it down with a thump by the table. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Gabriel replies, setting down the pen and flexing his fingers.
Singer gestures over his shoulder back at the door. “Heading back out to get groceries. Want to come?”
Gabriel’s eyebrows scrunch down, and he tilts his head one way. “Why?”
Singer shrugs. “Might do you some good to get out of here. Gets stifling, hanging out in a house all day with nothing to do but correct other people’s mistakes. Come on. Won’t be many people there this time of day, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Gabriel blinks and looks away, frowning, and Singer huffs. “You don’t have to. Just thought you might like some change.”
Change is for humans who can’t make up their minds, he wants to say, but it sounds uncomfortably like something that one of his brothers might have said. Instead, he just gives a little half-shrug. “If you want.”
“I want. Get something on your feet.”
Gabriel untangles himself from the blankets and sets the manuscript aside. Maybe he can find a calendar at the grocery, anyway. He’s wanted something to mark the days with.
The car ride is quiet, because Gabriel doesn’t have much to say and Singer—unlike Sam—seems perfectly content with that. When they pull up to the place, true to his word there’s very few cars parked outside, and they park right up close to the door. “Just getting the essentials,” Singer tells him, “and if there’s anything you want—”
“—you probably can’t have it.” Gabriel snorts at him and scowls, and Singer just shrugs. “Sorry. Give it a few more weeks.”
They reach the automatic glass doors, though, and the brilliant fluorescent light is flooding out and bouncing off the raindrops, and Gabriel—who wasn’t going to, who isn’t scared of such a stupid, inconsequential thing—freezes halfway under the eaves by a line of shopping carts. He clenches his fists and chokes on the air, staring at the linoleum flooring just beyond the line of glass, and doesn’t even see Singer until he’s right next to him with one hand held up between them. “Hey,” he says, and it seems oddly gentle, “You want to go back to the car?”
He shouldn’t want to, but he just swallows and says, “I’m sorry,” and Singer nods and leads him back. “I’m fine,” he says, “Go in and get the food.”
Singer pauses, frowning, and Gabriel just leans his forehead against the cold glass of the window until he leaves.
He didn’t even remember to ask Singer to get him a calendar.
He washes and washes, and the water evaporates off him, and he washes again. Again. Again.
There are tiny things crawling all around him, and they will not wash away.
Sam and Dean come crashing through the door with all the grace of two lightning-struck trolls. They’re about as wet as the trolls would be, too, and drip water all over the entryway. At least Singer tries to keep things dry.
Gabriel’s nose is itching again. He sighs, and picks up a tissue from the box beside him moments before he sneezes. Stupid humans and their stupid diseases. Stupid Singer, who probably gave him this one in particular.
“Wait. You’re sick?” Sam stops where he is and stares at Gabriel with a frown.
“…Haven’t we established?” He shakes another tissue loose and blows into it messily, glaring at Sam all the while. “I’m human. I piss and shit and breathe, I have a headache, and I spew random fluids everywhere with the best of them. How is that hard for you to understand?”
“No, it’s not—crap.” Sam’s got this half-confused, half-stricken look on his face, and he digs his fingernails into his palm as he glances away from Gabriel’s little nest.
“What? Sam?” Gabriel makes to stand up, scattering papers across the floor, but Sam looks up abruptly and motions him down.
“I’m sorry, but we have to take you in. There’s probably a clinic in Kalispell—”
“No. Sammy, a cold’s not gonna kill me. I might be more prone to getting sick than you lot, but my immune system works just fine.”
Sam’s already dragging out the brittle yellow phonebook from behind the couch. “It’s not that.”
“So what is it?”
Dean peers down over the couch at Sam. “Yeah, Sam, I’m not following either.”
“Look, it’ll just be a quick test. I’ll get an appointment in a week or so, it’ll only take a couple hours—”
Gabriel meets Dean’s eyes with their expressions mirroring each other’s, and they say almost simultaneously, “Sam—”
“Gabriel,” he swings around, clutching the phonebook, “when—the last couple of years. They didn’t—did they, um, use condoms?”
Dean’s eyebrows rise and he scoots down into the couch, fixing his gaze firmly on the television. Gabriel’s face twitches, going from shock to anger to a tense smile. “Sam, I realize you didn’t get a great education when you were young, but you’d think by the time you made it to Stanford you’d have learned that only women can get pregnant.” He speaks in a very deliberately level tone, flicking his tongue over his lips, before screwing up his nose and abruptly sneezing into a tissue he barely manages to reach in time.
Sam looks away. “You know what I mean.”
“No, Sam. Enlighten me. Because if you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, you’d realize that if I—well, I would already know, don’t you think? I never got sick, Sammy. Not once. Didn’t catch down there. So you can take your clinic—”
“They can be asymptomatic,” Sam butts in miserably.
“Gabriel, please just—”
“No! No means fucking no, Winchester!” He drags the palms of his hands hard along his ears, not to block out Sam but to alleviate the shrill, angry, whining buzz that’s digging into his brain and happily dancing along the inside of his skull. The room is a grey blur, and he scrambles to his feet, rushing past Sam-trying-to-look-five-feet-tall and running smack dab into an extremely confused Bobby.
He backs away, inch by inch, and veers away from Sam and up the step towards the fireplace. There’s a blank look in his eyes as they dart back and forth between the three men—Dean has finally sat up fully—and he reaches awkwardly behind to pat out the shape of the wall.
“What the hell did you idjits do?” Bobby snaps, “How long have you been back? Five minutes? And you’ve already got him going?”
“Yeah, good going, Sam,” Dean mutters, “seriously, a little tact?”
“I—Gabriel—” he takes a tentative step forward, mirrored by Gabriel’s steps back—his hand catches on the handle of the porch door, and he squeezes it tightly before opening it. “Gabriel, come on, it’s still raining out there—”
“He ain’t seeing you, Sam,” Bobby levels a glare his way, “let him go calm down.”
Sam’s face squinches up, and he retreats, sitting heavily on the short chair that makes his knees lift up above his hips. Gabriel, likewise, slips out the door, facing inside until the moment he closes it behind him. It's cold, dark, raining, but there's nothing wrong with the cold. It releases some of the pressure on his eyes, and the air is sweet and fresh as he drags it in through his mouth with long, slow gasps.
Outside. Outside is good. Outside is free.