For Love is Strong as Death

Chapter 3


Note: Biblical quotation taken from the Song of Solomon, and the source of the title.


Morning was a debacle.

Castiel had a hangover, was nauseas and ill-tempered from the moment he woke up. Gabriel, unsurprisingly, was sleep deprived. There was only the one shower between three of them, with only Sam having any clear idea of how to use it, and no toothbrushes, razors, or anything else a normal adult male needed for a morning routine. Also, they were going to be kicked out of the motel at noon, and Sam had once again run out of cash. It really said something about what his life had become that his first thought was not where he could find a job but how long another fake credit card would take to acquire.

He pick-pocketed a guy in the parking lot on their way out to the car, took the cash from the wallet before handing it in as lost property to the motel clerk. Sliding back into the driver's seat newly subsidised, he jumped slightly when Gabriel leaned over his shoulder, hair still wet from the shower and dripping cold water across the back of Sam's neck.

"Well that was certainly one of your cooler moments. Little five-finger-discount, Sammy?"

Sam glared at him in the rear-view mirror. "It wasn't 'cool', it was... necessary." He supposed it wasn't exactly smart to set a bad example for a rebellious archangel who really didn't need one, and wondered desperately if it was at all possible to convince Gabriel to do as he said, not as he did.

Next to him, Castiel quietly buckled his seatbelt, smoothing it down over his rumpled trenchcoat. He was looking more dishevelled than ever since he'd had to redress himself without the use of angelic powers, and Sam suddenly considered what he was going to do about new clothes for them.

Oh he was so not cut out for this.

Dean would be, if he'd been with them. The knowledge made him want to laugh semi-hysterically. Who'd have thought? Dean was supposed to be the irresponsible one, the fighter, the swaggering James Dean wannabe with a sawed-off and a rosary. That was why they let Sam do all the talking to family members and the comforting of witnesses. But Dean was also the one who'd done this before, or at least something close to it. He'd practically raised Sam, and taking care of people was what he did best, never mind that he'd deny it heatedly if he ever heard it phrased like that. Point was, he'd know what to do with two brand new humans.

Sucked that they couldn't ask him.

"Sam?"

"Huh?" He blinked himself back to attention, turning to find Castiel peering at him. "What?"

"I asked where we were going."

"Oh." He thought about it for a moment. "Uh. Is there anywhere you guys think we should go?"

Gabriel tapped him on the shoulder. "Take me to Vegas."

"You're not going to Vegas and I'm not your chauffeur. Cas?"

"I believe you and your brother would customarily begin by acquiring breakfast?"

Sam huffed a laugh. "Well, yeah. But I was thinking more long-term."

"Ah."

"Look. I don't want to start making all the decisions for you, is all."

Castiel turned his face to the window. "Does it matter? We have no destination, no objective. No knowledge of how to live like humans. As things stand, you are really the only one qualified to make decisions."

Sam stared at him, concerned by the despondent note in the angel's voice. He opened his mouth to say something possibly reassuring, but was spoken over.

"Hey, speak for yourself," Gabriel complained from the backseat. "As you so delicately pointed out last night, one of us has a little experience –"

Sam scoffed incredulously, twisting around to deliver a sceptical look. "Your 'experience' consists solely of eating too many sweets, watching too much TV, and starring in the most disturbing porno I've ever been forced to look at – thanks for that, by the way."

The archangel adopted an expression of bemused innocence. "What? You mean real life doesn't work like that?"

Half amused, Sam shook his head as he started the car and reversed. "Fine. Breakfast and research, if no one has any objections."

"I have objections."

"Yours don't count."

The archangel began to kick the back of his seat.


Being human officially sucked. It seemed to Gabriel that when you actually had to live it as opposed to just imitating it, you missed out on all the best parts.

He only half believed Sam when he said a constant excess of sugar wasn't a plausible diet. Sure, Gabriel was peripherally aware that real humans regularly ate other foods and that there was probably a good reason for that, but personally he just didn't see the appeal. Nor did he see the appeal in this whole sleep craze that Sam insisted was so necessary. He'd finally managed about two hours of unconsciousness in the motel last night, and had woken up feeling heavy and sluggish and dull-witted, his vessel aching in a thousand different places and ways. Gabriel had to marvel that humans could survive whole nights of sleep, if a mere two hours felt like being hit by a truck. He certainly wasn't going to be trying his hand at it again any time soon.

Every one of his senses felt muted. They were dependant on the capabilities of his vessel, now, without angelic grace to transcend the flesh. He could only see what was right in front of him, instead of glancing casually through time and space whenever the mood took him. He couldn't hear anything, and it turned out vessels were pathetically lacking in physical strength when they didn't have phenomenal cosmic powers running through them. For the first time ever he was made conscious of his shorter stature, and it could be... disconcerting, to enter a room and realise everybody present had a physical advantage over him, even if only temporarily. As they spent the day passing through bustling diners and busy libraries and yet another overcrowded bar, he found himself starting to hover warily next to the man-mountain that was the youngest Winchester, only to curse himself violently whenever he realised what he was doing.

And by the end of the day, not a thing had been accomplished in terms of returning them to former glory.

They were checked into yet another motel a couple of towns over, this one just as tacky as the first. Gabriel, personally, didn't have anything per se against 'tacky' as a décor, but this one was just plain unhygienic, as well. And he had to start worrying about that sort of thing, these days. In all honesty, he hadn't seen why they couldn't have stayed put, but Sam insisted they keep moving – apparently for no other reason than habit, since, as Castiel had so bleakly put it, it wasn't like any of them had purpose or destination these days. The three of them had abruptly become surplus.

Sam had gone out under the pretence of bringing back food, although Gabriel suspected he really just wanted a little alone time. That was fine, the archangel thought to himself as he sauntered out of the bathroom. He'd been waiting all day for the opportunity to have a private conversation with his brother.

Castiel was sitting stiffly on the edge of the far bed, his back to Gabriel and a book in his lap. When Gabriel bounced down onto the mattress behind him and peeked over his shoulder, he could see it was a Bible that had been on the bedside table, and that his brother was currently scrutinising the Song of Solomon. He snorted, amused.

"Good little angels aren't supposed to go around reading filth like that. It's practically porn, you know." He sprawled out on his back, one knee accidentally on purpose connecting with the other's lower back.

"Then it is good that I am no longer an angel." Blue eyes cast an irritated look down at him, before softening somewhat. "And the passage is not pornography. It is an expression of love and devotion."

Gabriel rolled his eyes, unimpressed. "Jeez, you're just thrill a minute, aren't you? Remind me again how you ever got along with Winchester..."

Castiel gave him a wounded look, and Gabriel spent a moment debating whether or not to feel bad. Then he remembered he was still holding a grudge against Castiel's attack on him back at the bar, and decided fair was only fair.

"Dean and I share a... shared a profound bond."

Silently, the archangel pretended to gag. "Okay, just so you know, I'm saying this as a guy who's eaten nothing but processed sugar for the past hundred years: your disgusting epic love affair is giving me cavities."

Unless he was imagining it, the corner of Castiel's mouth twitched briefly upwards in what might have been amusement. "It was not a love affair, Gabriel."

"Might as well have been..."

His brother tilted his head to a ridiculous angle, eyes squinted in obvious incomprehension.

Exasperated, Gabriel sat up and scooted so that they sat more or less side by side. "Can't believe I'm about to have this conversation... Alright, fine. You love him, right?"

Castiel immediately tensed, his spine visibly straightening. "I love all of our Father's creations –"

"Oh no, no, no. We can just skip the politically correct answer, thanks, as I'd like to get this over with so I can start pretending it didn't happen. So. You love Winchester, more than an obedient angel of the Lord should, some would say."

"We... share a unique history." His gaze stayed fixedly on the Bible he held, studiously avoiding Gabriel while his fingertips absently traced the edges of lines. "I have held his soul and raised it from purgatory, rebuilt him body and mind. We rebelled against Heaven together, fought back Hell. Visited a den of iniquity. Such experiences have perhaps made us closer than is normal, but there is no... We are not in love."

"...Uh huh. Look, I don't have all the time in the world here, so let's just skip straight past denial and on to acceptance, hm?" Gabriel gingerly patted him on the shoulder and attempted an encouraging smile. He wasn't entirely certain it worked.

Castiel sighed, shrugging him off. "Is there a reason you're suddenly so determined to convince me of my apparent love for a human I'm never going to see again?"

The archangel picked idly at a stain on his jeans, thinking. In fairness, Castiel was probably justified in being sceptical of his motives. Gabriel wasn't well known for his altruism – and now was no exception.

Sam had dug his heels in on the matter of letting Dean know they were all alive again. He'd gone and convinced himself that his brother was off enjoying some parody of suburban bliss, which couldn't possibly be touched by even a trace of supernatural for fear it would shatter on contact. Now, there were two problems with this line of thinking as far as Gabriel was concerned. One; no way in hell was Winchester the settling down type, whether Sam was willing to admit it or not. Two; it wasn't going to help at all with turning Gabriel back into an angel. In fact, it was proving kind of detrimental.

They'd spent the entire day attempting to research the matter, and while he hadn't exactly been expecting to make speedy progress, he would have appreciated Sam's – or hell, even Castiel's – full attention. But with Deano's absence a great big looming distraction, he wasn't even going to get that – which meant that Gabriel was never going to get his wings back, which in turn meant he was going to spend the rest of his existence choking down repulsive diner food and riding around in the back of stolen cars. No, the sooner they dragged Winchester back into the folds of Team Free Will, the sooner everybody was happy again and could start concentrating on what was really important around here: fixing Gabriel.

But he'd pulled out every persuasive trick in his arsenal to try and convince Sam of this reasoning, and been thoroughly ignored for his efforts. Sam didn't trust him; barely liked him; was only tolerating him because he pitied him. There was no way he was going to heed any advice Gabriel deigned to give him.

So Gabriel needed an ally.

And Castiel wanted to return to Winchester maybe more than anyone. He just needed to admit it.

"I'm a romantic at heart," he said at last, hoping he could sell it.

"Gabriel –"

"And hey, you're family. Don't get me wrong, as a little brother you're kind of a sanctimonious pain in my ass, but..." He waved a hand vaguely, searching for the type of caring-sharing sentiment people said in situations like this. He came up blank, so quickly switched to a different tactic. "Let me ask you something: if you had a chance to say one thing to him, what would it be?" Castiel promptly opened his mouth to answer, but Gabriel held up a finger to forestall him. "And don't go giving me something 'normal' and 'appropriate'. I don't care about what you think a human would say, or even what you think Deano would want to hear – I'm asking what you, Fallen angel of the freaking Lord, would want to say if you ever saw him again."

This time, Castiel didn't respond for a long time, just sat there preternaturally still, blue eyes moving again and again across the words of the Song. He was thinking, probably. It was completely possible his brother had never before had to consider anything of a personal nature he might wish to communicate.

Gabriel waited him out with gritted teeth.

Eventually, Castiel let out a breath. "I would say..." He hesitated, one finger tracing carefully across the words of the passage in front of him, and when he spoke again it was an intonation. "'Set me as a seal upon thine heart, As a seal upon thine arm: For love is strong as death.'"

Valiantly, the archangel resisted his first instinct, which was to laugh until his ribs ached at the thought of how Winchester would react to that little declaration. Oh, but it was so very Castiel: pious and melodramatic and utterly earnest. He supposed he'd asked for as much, but that didn't make it any less funny. It reminded him why he happened to like Castiel a damn sight more than he liked most of his other siblings.

"I think you just proved what I'm saying, bro," he managed to say instead, with an impressive lack of sniggering. "You're head over heels."

Castiel smiled bitterly, glancing across at him. "It hardly matters. As Sam says, Dean has a life without us now. And even if he didn't have Lisa Braedon, he would not, I think, look on me in quite the same manner."

"You'd be surprised..." Gabriel muttered, rubbing an eyebrow tiredly. Louder, he added, "You don't always have to listen to what Sam says, you know. Let's face it: nice kid, but he doesn't exactly have a history of impeccable judgement. Could be wrong on this, too."

"Sam knows his brother very well..."

Gabriel rolled his eyes, leaning forward. "Yeah? He ever held his soul? No. He hasn't. You have. And you know Winchester would want the two of you back if he knew you were alive –"

"Gabriel. Please."

He sighed, deciding it was time to make a tactical retreat. He'd let the thought take root, and return to press the issue soon enough.

He clapped Castiel hard on the back, bouncing to his feet. "Yeah, okay. Should probably stop the girl-talk anyway, before we feel the need to braid each other's hair or something."

Castiel squinted up at him with genuine perplexity. "...Why would we braid each other's hair?"

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