A week passed and they'd moved on to Illinois, meandering southwards without haste.
Sam had somehow managed to acquire a new counterfeit credit card during that time, and had proceeded to go on a Winchester-themed shopping spree. The first thing he bought was some junk-heap of a car, presumably to assuage his guilt over stealing the last one, which had been left politely by the side of the road before they'd scarpered over state lines. The new thing was a battered black and chrome monstrosity that looked suspiciously like an Impala and really wasn't fooling anyone, but Gabriel had so far refrained from comment.
After that came rock salt by the bagful, and a whole new arsenal of weapons. Sam had sworn pretty emphatically that they weren't actually going to need said weapons, since he wasn't taking them anywhere near anything that even looked like a hunt, but it seemed to reassure the kid to know they were stowed away in the false bottom of the car's trunk, or tucked out of sight about his person. Gabriel privately theorized that for a Winchester to rest at all easy, it was necessary to have at least ten means of committing homicide within arm's reach at any given moment.
What bemused him was that he couldn't quite decide if that was sad, funny, or vaguely reassuring.
They bought clothes at a thrift store, since Gabriel could no longer zap in a new wardrobe and Castiel's polyester suit really wasn't holding up without instant-freshness angel powers. Gabriel simply picked out the type of things he usually wore and was done with, finding it a menial task he had little patience for, and Sam did the same whenever they actually came across anything in big enough sizes to fit him. It had to be admitted, however, that there was far more entertainment to be found for the both of them in dressing Cas.
Gabriel immediately wanted to put him in one of the many lurid Hawaiian shirts which lined the racks, but Sam vetoed the idea, spoilsport that he was. His mouth did twitch, though, with obvious and poorly concealed amusement at the thought. Gabriel grinned up at him, enjoying the novelty of a shared joke.
They ended up just getting him black and grey T-shirts and some jeans. Not quite as fun as Hawaiian shirts or the red bellbottoms Gabriel had tried to trick him into wearing, but still surreal enough on his uptight little brother that he was satisfied. Boots and an army surplus jacket completed the outfit, and Sam thought he looked pretty good for the change, completely unaware that he was an echo of another Castiel of another time.
He started to teach both angels the basics of driving, out on empty stretches of highway where they couldn't possibly crash into anything – which turned out to be a pretty good idea when Cas proved a little too heavy-handed with the steering and promptly put them in a ditch at the side of the road. He apologised profusely, and Sam said it was okay, it was fine, desperately trying to remember exactly how an eighteen year old Dean had taught him, so that maybe he could repeat the trick. Gabriel, thankfully, proved more of a natural, though not by much. At the very least he could keep them going in a straight line whenever he bothered to concentrate long enough.
During the days they continued to research as best they could, looking into both their sudden and unexplained resurrection and the angels' ongoing mortality, but in all honesty there was so very little to go on. The internet was full of false leads and speculation, the small town libraries were worse than useless, and Sam no longer had any contacts in the hunting world – especially any who knew anything about this level of weird.
At night they were boring.
They flipped coins and drew straws for who got to sleep on the couch – or the floor, if the motel in which they were staying was particularly cheap. They played card games, gambling for laptop rights or choice of TV channel. When Sam won, he made them sit through documentaries (partly because Dean wasn't here to judge him, but mostly to annoy Gabriel). When the archangel won, he managed to traumatise Cas by introducing him to porn. One evening, they played Scrabble. Sam held his own at first, until he mistakenly agreed that foreign languages were permissible, thinking his own fluent knowledge of Latin and Spanish would prove an advantage, only to have both angels thoroughly thrash him in Enochian.
In truth, Sam didn't really mind the boredom. He kind of thought they'd earned the right to boredom after everything they'd done. Even bickering with Gabriel, which had become a continuous and absentminded habit, had lost its sharp edge of antagonism. Oh, it wasn't like he was happy – none of them were, by any stretch of the imagination – but he'd fallen into a routine, and if it wasn't good it was at least comfortable.
And then Sam stumbled across a hunt.
The sound of the key turning in the lock woke Gabriel from the impromptu nap he'd been enjoying. As it turned out, sleep, while still a massive waste of time, had the occasional redeeming feature – one of which happened to be the dreaming. He could still feel the phantom sensations of flight as he blinked himself fully awake, confused for a moment by his own lack of momentum. He peered blurrily up at Sam as the other man entered the motel room, watching him toss his keys onto the desk without taking his eyes from the newspaper he was reading.
"Where've you been?"
"Took a walk down to the library," Sam answered distractedly, wandering past. "I wanted to see if they had anything on angel lore."
Gabriel yawned widely, resisted the urge to stretch his non-existent wings. "And?"
There was a long pause, until finally Sam seemed to realise he was expected to respond. Reluctantly, he tore his gaze away from whatever article had captured his attention. "Hm? Oh. No, there was nothing. Sorry."
The archangel waved him off, unsurprised. He wasn't exactly hoping for a breakthrough out here in Hicksville. Glancing back at the human, he frowned to see he was once again fixated by the newspaper. "What's got you so interested, anyway? Please tell me there's boobs involved, and if so, that you're willing to share."
"What? No." Mouth pinched in an expression somewhere between flustered and offended, Sam pointedly folded the paper closed and tucked it away beside his travel bag. "It was just an interesting story. Where's Cas?"
"He's out in the car, communing with the radio again."
Sam immediately slumped, letting out a worried sigh as he moved to the window to look out. "I feel bad, letting him sit out there on his own. He could have just used my laptop if he wanted to listen to music..."
Gabriel resettled himself lazily, legs crossed at the ankles and one arm folded behind his head. "Yeah, I was already using it at the time."
"Wh– Gabriel!" Sam turned on him incredulously, bitchface in full effect. "You made him go outside so you could watch porn? God, you're worse than Dea–" He cut himself off with audible effort, choking awkwardly on the name. Then, after a moment, he seemed to recover himself and jabbed an authoritative finger in Gabriel's direction, grabbing for his keys with the other hand. "I'm going to go get him. Next time, let him use the damn laptop. I'm serious."
"Oh, well, if you're serious..."
The door slammed on the tail end of Gabriel's sarcasm, leaving him to roll his eyes at an empty room. Oh, he was so utterly bored of everything – of being human, of both Sam and Castiel mooning about like depressed zombies, of aimlessly trailing around endless motels when there wasn't even a reason for living like this. It was all getting a little ridiculous.
Sitting up, he swiped loose bangs of hair from his eyes and cast around for some kind of distraction that would hopefully keep him sane for another hour. After a moment or two, his gaze landed on the discarded newspaper Sam had brought in with him, stashed half out of sight.
He cocked a curious eyebrow at it.
It was just beginning to get dark out as Sam made his way through the motel parking lot towards where he could see Cas sitting in the car. The angel had taken an almost obsessive interest in listening to music now that he actually had the time – nothing but god damn time – to sit and do something other than search for god or try to stop the apocalypse. This was the fourth time in the last week that he'd disappeared off on his own, and each time either Sam or Gabriel had been forced to come out to the car and coax him back inside – although in Gabriel's case it wasn't so much 'coaxing' as 'being so entirely obnoxious that Cas had no choice but to seek sanctuary back in the motel'. Well. Whatever worked.
Castiel had taken the driver's side to work the radio, so Sam quietly slid into the passenger's, shutting the car door behind him. For a second, it was exactly like getting into the Impala, his brother's god-awful cock rock blasting from the speakers.
He aimed a sceptical smile over in Cas' direction. "What, you're into Metallica now?" Yesterday it had been Fall Out Boy.
"This music is... familiar."
Sam made a contemplative sound, absently tapping his fingers in time with the well known song. Then he coughed once, uncomfortable. "...Dean ever make you listen to this stuff?"
Castiel didn't look up from his intent study of his frayed jacket sleeve. "Once. I travelled with him, when the two of you were separated. I had no taste for it."
"Yeah. I kinda hated it too."
Neither of them made any effort to turn it off.
"Gabriel has been trying to convince me that you're wrong," Cas said after a while. "That we should go back."
Sam shook his head, not particularly surprised to hear that the ex-trickster had gone behind his back, although he was starting to wonder why Gabriel was so damn persistent on the matter. He hesitated, glancing over at Castiel with reluctant curiosity. He didn't want to be having this conversation. "You, uh... You think he's right?"
The angel gave a huff of bitter laughter. "I think he's trying to manipulate me into agreeing with him, because for some reason he believes we would make faster progress in restoring our Grace if we were to reunite with your brother. I think his opinion on the matter is therefore biased." He drew one leg up onto the seat, picking idly at a small tear in his jeans. "But then so is mine. So is yours."
Sam turned away, looking out of the car window into the growing darkness. Sometimes he hated Castiel's propensity for brutal honesty.
"I miss him too, Cas," he said at last, almost spitting the words in his sudden need to get them out. "It's not that I don't want, more than anything–"
The back door of the car abruptly opened, startling them both, and Sam cleared his throat to loosen the sudden tightness there. He turned to see Gabriel crawling across the back seat with newspaper clutched in hand, and winced automatically at the sight, knowing what was about to come even before the archangel furiously brandished the pages at him.
"You ever planning on mentioning this, kiddo?"
"No," he answered sullenly, reaching out to turn the radio down.
Castiel twisted in his seat to curiously eye the paper. "What is it?"
"It's a haunting! Here, in this crap-hole of a town! And instead of doing something remotely interesting like hunting a ghost, we're sat on our asses doing nothing!"
"It doesn't matter what it is," Sam snapped, looking between them. "I told you, we're not getting involved in a hunt while you're both like this."
"No." He slapped one hand against the dashboard. "By some miracle we're alive again. I don't know about you, but I'm in no rush to change that."
Castiel glared disapprovingly. "You're a hunter."
He glared right back. "And you're not."
"We're soldiers of the–"
"You're angels. Or you're supposed to be, rather." He gestured helplessly. "Look, guys, no offence, but right now you have no powers, no training, no experience. If we went up against anything like this you'd get yourselves killed in the first five minutes, you'd get me killed–"
"So instead we're just going to drive on by," Gabriel surmised scornfully, expansive hand gestures and all. "Let some other clueless bastards get themselves killed instead–"
Sam kneeled on the seat and turned around, aware that he was looming over the smaller man even in the cramped space of the car. "And since when are you all gung-ho about hunting things and saving people? What's the ulterior motive this time?"
Gabriel narrowed his eyes. "Hey, you two may not have a very high opinion of me, but keep in mind, children, that I've been upholding justice in one way or another since before either of you were even in existence!"
Against his will Sam flushed at the reprimand, glad that the gloom of the car kept the reaction mostly hidden. He forgot, sometimes, exactly what Gabriel was (besides just a pain in his ass) and it made him feel young and ignorant to be so bluntly reminded – neither of which he'd been in a very long time. Gabriel's stare was unwavering, like he knew exactly what he'd done, so Sam turned quickly away and resettled himself facing forward.
"Whatever," he gritted out eventually. "Look, you two are my responsibility until you get your angel mojo back, and I said we're not going on a hunt." He had no delusions over why they suddenly thought this such a good idea. Gabriel was more bored than righteous, and Cas more righteous than sensible. But he still wanted to yell at them that didn't they realise Dean wasn't here to play leader and brother and carer and stupid, unthinking hero anymore? He wasn't here to look after angels who were never meant to experience this kind of vulnerability. They were stuck with only Sam for the job, and he was poorly qualified enough without purposely taking them smack bang into the middle of real danger.
But Cas and Gabriel only exchanged an unimpressed glance through the rear-view mirror, obvious and pointed. The archangel leaned forward over Sam's shoulder and spoke in a perfectly level voice. "Okay, first off? We're not your anything, Sammy-boy. Certainly not your 'responsibility'–"
Sam maybe lost it a little bit then. Before he was even consciously aware of his own actions, he found himself slamming out of the car, yanking the back door almost off its squeaky hinges, and gesturing expectantly at a somewhat surprised Gabriel. "Well, guess what? It's just fine with me if you want to take off. No one's keeping you here, trust me." In the privacy of his own mind, Sam asked himself what the Jesus fuck he thought he was saying.
Gabriel blinked up at him from the backseat, looking faintly betrayed. "...You're ditching me?"
Sam gritted his teeth and shifted his weight, instantly feeling annoyed and guilty. He didn't back down, though, just stepped aside and gestured out into the night. "Look, you can go get yourself killed again, if that's what you want. I won't stop you. But don't you dare ask me to help you do it."
The archangel sat rigid, clearly furious. The newspaper was crumbled in his hands. After a moment or two, he cast a defiant look past Sam like he was actually considering getting out of the car and walking away – unknowingly sending a jolt of unrestrained panic through the human – before slowly, resentfully relaxing back against the seat.
"Yeah," Sam snapped, too relieved to care how snide his voice sounded. "Didn't think so." He slammed the door and turned on his heel without another word, suddenly anxious to get away. From behind him came the sound of the car window being roughly wound down.
"Yanno what?" Gabriel screamed after him, voice ringing loud and shrill across the parking lot. "It comes as a complete and utter shock that you were supposed to be the Antichrist!"
Scandalised, Sam shot a narrow-eyed glare over his shoulder, lip curling, before stalking away into the motel.